The allegations of sexual harassment in the Oregon Capitol are disturbing, though not surprising.
Sexual harassment occurs in too many workplaces, and capitols seem a prime breeding ground because of the inherent power imbalance. Victims of sexual harassment – whether lawmakers, lobbyists or legislative employees — often are reluctant to speak out for fear of losing their political influence or their jobs.
It took courage for two female state senators — Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, and another unnamed senator – to report what they considered sexual harassment by a colleague, Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg.
Kruse has denied the allegations, which are under investigation by legislative officials. What we do know, from a letter by Senate President Peter Courtney stripping Kruse of his committee assignments, is that legislative officials in 2016 instructed Kruse “not to touch women at work. Period.”
Some Oregonians may argue that sexual harassment is an example of political correctness run amok. Or that changing generational standards make it difficult for people, men especially, to know how to act. Not so. Harassment or intimidation in the workplace is never OK.
For anyone who is uncertain about what to do, here are tips: If you’re unsure whether a remark will be heard as sexist, demeaning or harassing, don’t speak it. If you wonder whether a hug is appropriate, ask the person. If you want to compliment someone’s shirt, do so nicely — without praising the person’s body or letting your eyes linger.
Sexual harassment is never acceptable, never understandable, never tolerable, and certainly not at the Oregon Capitol. Of all people, lawmakers have a responsibility to know and heed the rules and laws they create.
The Oregon Legislature’s personnel rules clearly state that sexual harassment can constitute “unwelcome conduct in the form of a sexual advance, sexual comment, request for sexual favors, unwanted or offensive touching or physical contact of a sexual nature, unwanted closeness, impeding or blocking movement, sexual gesture, sexual innuendo, sexual joke, sexually charged language, intimate inquiry, persistent unwanted courting, sexist insult, gender stereotype, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature … .”
Before each legislative session, every legislator and every legislative employee – hundreds of people -- must attend mandatory training on maintaining a harassment-free workplace and other policies. No one is exempt from that training.
Yet sexual harassment still occurs. And it’s still inexcusable.