Three state delegates said publicly on Monday they have been victims of sexual harassment on the job in Annapolis, and they called for a new policy that would take politics out of investigating future complaints.
Two of their male colleagues said they’ve witnessed groping or other sexual impropriety, and that the Maryland General Assembly needs a better process to ensure victims are protected and willing to come forward.
The revelations come as the state legislature grapples with the #MeToo movement and calls for action against sexual harassment. The General Assembly is weighing legislation to prevent and handle it, including having an independent investigator review future complaints. Those investigations currently are funneled through General Assembly’s elected leaders.
Del. Angela Angel told the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee that she felt defenseless when she was accosted in front of other people and no one came to her defense.
"We have a problem, a monster of our own creation that we have both the opportunity and the duty to put down," the Prince George’s County Democrat said during a hearing on a proposal to revamp sexual harassment procedures.
"The moment that I was publicly grabbed and no one said a word, I knew that I was my only protector in this House,” she said.
She didn’t offer further details on the incident, but said she’s wept with other women navigating how to respond to “the latest inappropriate comment, uncomfortable encounter and unwanted touches.”
Del. Marice Morales said she has to “call out” colleagues who sexually harass her. The Montgomery County Democrat said the current reporting process would force her to reveal embarrassing encounters to people crucial to her political future.
“It’s very lonely when there were other colleagues in the room that did not say anything,” she said. “And then they came up to me afterward and said, ‘Marice, I’m really sorry that happened to you. Do you want me to say anything about it?’
“No, because I’m a freshman legislator. Do I really want to start my career with this on my record? That’s what I have to constantly ask myself every single day.”
Morales said she didn’t want to have to seek political support from the same people adjudicating her sexual harassment complaint.
“I don’t want the speaker to see me in a different way,” Morales said. “Where I have to go in front of [you] and earn your respect and have you look at my bills for the merits of the bill, I don’t want you to know that I’ve been sexually harassed because it undermines me as a person, as a legislator.”
Del. Ariana Kelly, the Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the Women’s Caucus, said she has a “list of incidents” that she shares privately with colleagues as she’s trying to persuade them to change sexual harassment procedures. She previously disclosed the details of one incident — a senior colleague who groped her when she was a freshman lawmaker — in a Washington Post opinion piece.
“Each of those incidents made it harder for me to do my job,” she said. “These situations made me feel objectified and minimized and disrespected. And when I spoke out, I feared retaliation. And sometimes I faced retaliation.”
The comments come four days after Sen. Cheryl Kagan became the first sitting lawmaker since the #MeToo movement began to openly accuse someone of sexual impropriety.
The Montgomery County Democrat said Friday that former lawmaker and current lobbyist Gil Genn had run his hand down her back and “grazed my tush” at an Annapolis bar the night before.
Genn denied the allegation and called Kagan “delusional.” He said Monday he regretted that characterization.
In an open letter on Monday, Genn again denied the allegation, but wrote in his three-page message that it was “in-artful” to describe her as delusional.
“I wish I did not use that term, and I wish I could retract it, and I apologize for it,” he said. He went on to issue what he said was a public apology to Kagan for calling her delusional, but he continued to deny the underlying allegation. He sent the letter to the entire General Assembly.
“Senator Kagan, I genuinely apologize for my inartful characterization of your accusations of me as ‘delusional.’ Genn wrote. “Perhaps, in the crowded and noisy bar at that moment, you did indeed feel a person’s hand on your back and that hand running down your back to your tush. To the extent you did, I swear to you it was absolutely not me. I also assure you that I had, and have, absolutely no intention or interest whatsoever in touching you in any manner whatsoever. None. I will continue to respect you in a professional context only, and will continue to treat you with all the dignity you deserve.”
In response, Kagan issued a statement that said, “I stand by my testimony and am disappointed that he would fabricate such an obviously self-serving statement of absurd denial.
“I think Genn ‘doth protesteth too much’ with a 3-page statement.”