Our Opinion: Follow House lead on harassment efforts

The sexual harassment scandal involving former film executive Harvey Weinstein triggered the #MeToo movement, in which women are sharing their own stories of harassment in the workplace and in society in general. It has touched the State House in Boston as well, and triggered an encouraging if belated response from House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

On Friday, Mr. DeLeo ordered a comprehensive review of the House's sexual harassment policies, acknowledging that the House had failed to create a safe workplace environment for all. (Eagle, State House News Service, October 28.) The Speaker's action came after a dozen women came forward in The Boston Globe with their stories of sexual harassment in the House.

Mr. DeLeo told the House, which was meeting to discuss a spending bill, that he was "infuriated and deeply disturbed" by what he read. The women told of being crudely asked for sex, being subjected to other inappropriate comments and actions, and in one case, witnessing a House member viewing pornography on a cellphone while sitting in the chamber.

In a statement Friday, state Senate President Stanley Rosenberg pointed out that all Senate lawmakers and employees receive anti-harassment training at the beginning of each session. Harassment complaints are investigated by the Senate counsel and the director of Senate Human Resources and if the allegations are confirmed, "appropriate discipline is imposed." President Rosenberg told the news service that he will continue to draw attention to the procedures that are in place to deal with sexual harassment, and as part of that policy it would be welcome if the Senate better explained how it determines what punishment is appropriate should a member or staffer be found to have engaged in harassing behavior.

It would also be wise if town halls and city halls throughout Berkshire County took a careful look at whatever policies and procedures they have in place (assuming they do) to deal with allegations of sexual harassment. Obviously, no community wants to confront a lawsuit, but beyond that, every community should want to ensure that women feel comfortable in their work environment in town or city hall.

The Weinstein scandal, and other high-profile scandals at Fox News and now at CNN, came at male-dominated organizations in which powerful men came to believe that their actions were above scrutiny or challenge. Female victims feared that if they came forward they would not be believed and/or they would be subject to retribution impacting their careers. A similar dynamic could be in play in the state Legislature, where less than one-third of the members are women.

Political bodies benefit from increased diversity, which means more ethnic minorities as well as women, and that won't happen in a threatening workplace environment. All government organizations should establish, enforce and regularly review policies to combat sexual harassment — and private organizations should do so as well.


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