There was no question that the #MeToo movement sweeping the nation would impact Utah politics sooner or later. Utah County has already experienced an increase in sexual harassment and discrimination claims, especially with regard to Commissioner Greg Graves.
Late last year a Utah County employee accused Graves of sexual harassment and retaliation. Details from the alleged harassment included allegations of “sexually suggestive” comments, and a rub on her leg, above the knee, with the comment, “Don’t show if you don’t want to be touched.”
Along with the Utah County Republican Party and Graves’s fellow commissioners, we called on Graves to resign. He has not.
Utah’s 2018 legislative session begins in one week, and if legislators haven’t yet thought about this issue, then they aren’t prepared.
The Associated Press reported Thursday, after submitting a public records request to the Legislature, that two legislators “had to take additional sexual harassment training over the past decade after allegations of sexual harassment were made against them.”
Legislative officials would not identify either the lawmakers or what in branch they served, in an effort to protect the identity of the victims. But it seems just as likely that they are protecting the identity of the accused.
In the first instance a legislator made comments on a female employee’s looks, called her “honey” and “sweetie” and kissed her hand and told her he would take care of her. When she objected, he implied such objection would affect her upcoming evaluation.
There were no details available for the second incident.
These two sexual harassment claims over the last 10 years were only the instances where victims were brave enough to report. The actual amount of harassment is likely much higher. For example, interns at the Utah Capitol have often been called “skinterns.”
That is disgusting.
In both instances, the Legislature’s compliance officer gave the offending legislators a stern talking-to. The lawmakers were also required to retake harassment training, notwithstanding the fact that it didn’t work the first time.
This discipline was inadequate. It was inadequate 10 years ago, and it is inadequate now.
The Legislature needs to implement a policy of zero tolerance. None. No protection of identity. No protection from reporting. And no taxpayer subsidy of settlements.
Besides actual harassment or discrimination, legislators, staff and lobbyists have to also watch for an over-correction – efforts to avoid women in an effort to not harass them. Obviously, avoiding women would result in excluding them from important meetings and decisions. Male legislators cannot request male interns without it being discrimination.
The 2018 session is geared up for multiple controversies. Sexual harassment doesn’t need to be one of them.