‘Like a fraternity house’: Report reveals sexual harassment in Maryland State House

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers, lobbyists and staff members in Maryland’s General Assembly detail sometimes-graphic incidents of sexual harassment in Annapolis in a new 38-page report from the Women’s Caucus.

Anonymous comments in a section labeled “Silenced Voices” include accounts of staff members, current and former lobbyists and legislators who say they were groped, ogled and singled out for sexual harassment while at work in the state capital.

Quotes included in the report describe a range of experiences.

“Was I harassed? Almost every day,” said one respondent in the report. In another case, a current staffer said a lawmaker came into her office, put his hands on her knees and slid his hands “all the way up my skirt.”

A current lawmaker described getting a ride home from a colleague after a legislative reception in Annapolis. Instead of driving her home, the man “pulled the car over to the side of the road, locked the doors, grabbed my breasts and stuck his tongue in my ear,” the lawmaker said. She said she struggled to push him away unlock the door and find her own way home.

A current staffer described an unprofessional work atmosphere rife with sexual innuendo.

“A male legislator described the color and print on his boxers and talked repeatedly about his ‘junk’ in my office,” the staffer said. “Sometimes we work with legislators who are only a few years older and the line between friendly and professional is blurred. It feels like a fraternity house.”

Lawmakers, lobbyists and staff members in Maryland’s General Assembly detail sometimes-graphic incidents of sexual harassment in Annapolis in the new report. (Courtesy Women’s Caucus)

Delegate Ariana Kelly, president of the Women’s Caucus, said for many women in Annapolis, the incidents in the report come as no surprise.

“But for a lot of my colleagues, they’re really shocked,” she said. “They don’t understand that these things have been really happening under their nose the whole time.”

That’s why Kelly said it was important to include the accounts in the report alongside 22 recommendations on ways to “change the culture” in Annapolis. “We need to share the stories of these voices that have been silenced but have been too afraid to explain what their experiences have been.”

The report came out on the same day that a work group formed by the presiding officers in the Maryland General Assembly held its first meeting on sexual harassment.

Kelly said both the caucus and the work group are focused on changing the culture in Annapolis. And she said it’s not always lawmakers who are sexually harassing staffers and lobbyists.

“The behavior is being perpetrated by people who are in more powerful positions, but that doesn’t always mean it’s the legislator,” she said. “Sometimes extremely powerful lobbyists were sexually harassing new, young lobbyists.”

Kelly said anybody could be a perpetrator and anyone could be a victim. “The real common denominator was who was in the real position of power,” Kelly said.

At Friday afternoon’s work group meeting, members agreed that a final report with recommedations on training should be done by December.

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