It’s been five years since the global #metoo movement rocked the Oregon state Capitol, causing one state lawmaker to resign and kicking off a reckoning to change the culture in the statehouse.
But Salem has been slow to change.
In a memo submitted last year, an outside firm noted many employees of the state Capitol still describe it as a “toxic” workplace where people don’t trust the complaint process.
It turns out the Oregon state Legislature is not alone in its struggles. The National Women’s Defense League, a national nonpartisan group that is working to prevent harassment, released a nationwide look this month, showing that sexual harassment in state government continues to be a pervasive and ongoing problem.
“This isn’t a single-party issue or an anomaly,” NWDL co-founder and executive director Emma Davidson Tribbs said at a press conference. “It is a systemic, under-regulated abuse of power in every state house across the country.”
The report revealed 359 incidents of sexual harassment by a sitting lawmaker since 2013 and 130 state lawmakers who were publicly accused of sexual harassment in that time period. Davidson Tribbs said the actual numbers of harassment were likely much higher since victims do not always report.
After a report of harassment, Davidson Tribbs said, there is often very little accountability. The group’s research found nearly 60% of lawmakers attempt to remain in office immediately after an accusation and in 55% of the incidents identified, no action is taken against the lawmaker. Nearly 90% of accused lawmakers are reelected.
The group’s research shows the people who are most likely to be harassed are staffers, lobbyists, other lawmakers and reporters.
The group’s report said it’s incumbent on state Legislatures to be more transparent, create clear public reporting standards, prioritize policies that prevent harassment and address and better trauma-informed approaches are in place to help survivors.
In Oregon, former state Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, resigned his post in 2018 after an investigation revealed a pattern of unwanted touching and harassment at the state Capitol. The national report also notes several other lawmakers, including Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, and Rep. David Gomberg, D-Otis, were accused of harassment. In 2021, Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, resigned after allegations of harassment.
For nearly two years, the role of a legislative equity officer in the Oregon state Legislature was vacant. A new equity officer was hired earlier this year charged with addressing complaints of workplace harassment and retaliation in the Oregon state Capitol.