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'Enough': California's Women In Politics Call Out Sexual Harassment

A 2016 file photo of the California state Capitol in Sacramento.
Rich Pedroncelli
A 2016 file photo of the California state Capitol in Sacramento.

This story was originally posted by member station KQED.

A bipartisan group of more than 140 of some of California's most powerful women — including lawmakers, lobbyists and consultants — are calling out pervasive sexual harassment in politics and across all industries, penning a public letter with one simple message: Enough.

The letter comes a week after revelations that one of Hollywood's most powerful men, Harvey Weinstein, had sexually harassed or abused dozens of women over decadesin the movie business — and as thousands of women are sharing their stories of abuse and harassment on social media, with a simple statement: "Me, too."

But Sacramento lobbyist Samantha Corbin, who helped coordinate the letter, said the issue had been percolating at the state Capitol long before the Weinstein controversy broke.

"It elevated conversations that already happened under the radar between women colleagues and friends for years," said Corbin.

"It's a pretty regular thing in Sacramento," she added. "A lot of us are fed up with power dynamics that are not on our side."

Corbin said she and fellow organizers contacted more than 500 women about signing the letter. She noted that many, while supportive, expressed concerns about retaliations by their bosses if they spoke out. She noted that of the women who originally signed the letter, only five are staffers at the state Capitol.

"It's a power dynamic that's difficult even for female lawmakers," Corbin said. "Even for women in the Legislature, men often control fundraising, your ability to get bills passed — even women at the highest levels feel that they're not insulated" from retaliation.

She stressed that many men at the state Capitol have reached out to ask what they can do to help. But Corbin noted, some men are oblivious to sexual harassment, even when it happens right in front of them.

"They don't know what it looks like or how to intervene," Corbin said. "Some of them don't even see what's happening with their own colleagues."

The women leaders write that "millions of Americans were shocked" to learn of Weinstein's behavior.

"We were not. This same kind of inappropriate, sexually harassing behavior cuts across every industry and facet of our society. No matter a woman's age, weight, religion, sexual orientation, race, social status, or position of power, she is not insulated from this behavior. It is pervasive," they wrote.

The letter goes on to detail the ways in which all of the letters' signatories have endured or witnessed "some form of dehumanizing behavior by men with power in our workplaces."

Their list is long and explicit: Groping. Touching. Inappropriate comments about bodies and abilities. Insults and sexual innuendo, frequently disguised as jokes. Promises and threats.

"They have leveraged their power and positions to treat us however they would like," the group wrote, noting that they didn't speak up before out of fear, out of shame.

"Often these men hold our professional fates in their hands. They are bosses, gatekeepers, and contacts. Our relationships with them are crucial to our personal success," they wrote. "We don't want to jeopardize our future, make waves, or be labeled 'crazy,' 'troublemaker,' or 'asking for it.' Worse, we're afraid when we speak up that no one will believe us, or we will be blacklisted."

The signatories include Democrats and Republicans; dozens of lawmakers and other elected officials; lobbyists, political consultants; party leaders. In short, pretty much every sector of California's political world.

They are asking other women to come forward, and have launched a website to collect stories and support one another. And they are demanding that men support them.

"We're done with this," the letter states. "Each of us who signed this op-ed will no longer tolerate the perpetrators or enablers who do. What now? It's time for women to speak up and share their stories. We also need the good men, and there are many, to believe us, have our backs, and speak up. Until more women hold positions of power, our future is literally dependent on men. It's time."

Corbin noted that while some legislators are notorious for their behavior toward women, organizers decided against naming names.

"Even if we had a list of the five worst offenders, it wouldn't do anything," she said. "There's more than five. It's systemic."

Copyright 2017 KQED

Marisa Lagos
Scott Shafer