New report describes scenes of sexual harassment in Maryland General Assembly

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

The Maryland Women’s Caucus released a report Friday that details anonymous accounts of sexual harassment in Annapolis, troubling vignettes presented as state lawmakers grapple with how to prevent such misbehavior in the future.

The caucus compiled anonymous encounters between male state lawmakers or lobbyists and women working in the General Assembly as lawmakers, staff members or lobbyists.

A current unnamed lawmaker described a colleague grabbing her breasts and sticking his tongue in her ear, according to the report. A current unnamed staffer said a current male lawmaker closed an office door and slid his hands up her skirt. A lobbyist said a lawmaker repeatedly asked her to get him a box of condoms, size large, so that he wouldn’t impregnate anyone during the session — a request the lobbyist for a reproductive rights organization took as a joke until she turned him down and he refused to speak to her again, the report said.

The caucus released the report on the same day that a new sexual harassment prevention commission created by the General Assembly’s presiding officers held its inaugural meeting.

The encounters described by the caucus took place over an unspecified period, and the report includes previously announced recommendations on how to prevent sexual assault and harassment.

It also offers an anonymous glimpse into what female lawmakers, lobbyists and staffers describe privately as a culture of disrespect in the state’s capital.

“The recent #MeToo movement has brought to light a culture in which sexual harassment is still pervasive, and its harm too often ignored,” Del. Ariana Kelly, the Women’s Caucus chair, wrote in a letter introducing the report.

“We found there to be significant confusion around the current reporting process, a general reluctance from most stakeholders to report incidents to the presiding officers’ chiefs of staff, a lack of confidence that repeat offenders were being identified, and a desire for the reporting and investigatory process to be further removed from the political context,” Kelly said.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller announced plans for the new sexual harassment commission in January. A few months earlier, they agreed to tweak the process by which complaints are handled, including a promise that complaints will be tracked and an annual report about misconduct will be released.

“We thought about this for a long time. We’ve done as much as we can,” Busch said Friday as the new commission gathered for its first meeting. “We need some outside help.”

Miller told the panel — 12 women and two men — that he believed the state already has “a good process in place, but we really need to be better.”

Miller referred to the “Access Hollywood” tape that caught now-President Donald Trump on tape making lewd remarks, and said that a cultural shift needs to take place.

“People think that if the president of the United States can get away with this, other people can,” Miller said. “Nobody can.”

In the report, one current staffer described men brushing past women in a crowded room and using the opportunity "to touch you in a gross sexual way, caressing your shoulder, or the small of your back. It's subtle enough that you have to pretend it didn't happen. But you know it did.”

A former staffer said in the report that when she asked a senator to write her a recommendation for law school, “he said he’d only do it because I had cleavage exposed that day.”

Another staffer described in the report a male lawmaker repeatedly talking about his underwear and “junk.”

Jeanne Hitchcock, the new commission’s chair, said her mission was “doing all we can to create a culture of respect.”

ecox@baltsun.com

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