'I was touched without permission': Former staffer recounts alleged sexual harassment by Maryland legislators

A former press secretary to Gov. Martin O’Malley told women lawmakers Wednesday that she was the target of a string of embarrassing incidents of sexual harassment by lawmakers during her eight years of work in Annapolis.

Nina Smith recounted her experiences in the state capital as the bipartisan Maryland Women’s Caucus of the Maryland General Assembly considered a series of recommendations to the leadership of the assembly for dealing with harassment.


Smith did not name the individuals she accused of harassing her, but described incidents during the years she worked in Annapolis off and on between 2004 and 2014, ranging from crude jokes to come-ons to outright sexual assault.

“I was touched without permission,” she said. “Each incident left me feeling ashamed.”


The Maryland Women’s Caucus on Wednesday released a set of recommendations on how to root out and prevent sexual harassment in the Maryland General Assembly.

Smith said she recalled being harassed by six lawmakers in varying ways.

One told her he would like to perform a sexual act in front of a lobbyist. Another repeatedly called her at inappropriate times to come to his room. One legislator, she said, “rubbed his private parts on me.”

In another case, Smith said, she felt harassed by a group of legislators. She said they “embarrassed me until I slurped down oysters, telling me all the while it was a powerful aphrodisiac.”

Smith said she came to Annapolis as an aide to the late Sen. Gwendolyn Britt, a Prince George’s County Democrat and a civil rights pioneer. She praised Britt as a strong force, but said the senator couldn’t protect her from the worst aspects of a political career.

Fear for her livelihood kept her from saying anything, Smith said.

“This is political life, and it certainly didn’t help for someone like me to rock the boat,” Smith said. “So after a while, it became normal.”

Older women advised her to wear longer skirts and avoid form-fitting or attention-drawing clothing, she said. They were the same rules those women followed to navigate the “minefields” in the capital, she said.

“I know that when I reached out to them they were looking out for me in the best way they knew how,” Smith said. When she went to work in the governor’s office, Smith said, she would pass on the same advice to interns and other young women at the State House.

After leaving the General Assembly, Smith worked for the Maryland Democratic Party and in the governor’s office. She worked in media events and public relations for O’Malley from 2007 to 2011. She returned in late 2013 to act as O’Malley’s press secretary during his last year in office.

Smith said the #MeToo movement had emboldened her to speak up and offer her views to the caucus.

The women’s caucus recommended that all legislators and staff undergo additional and more frequent training on proper workplace behavior. The group also advised legislative leaders to hire a “sexual harassment specialist” to track complaints of misconduct and coordinate the training.

After hearing from Smith, the caucus unanimously endorsed a four-page set of proposals Wednesday. Smith endorsed the recommendations.

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