The National Organization of Women’s New York chapter has created a sexual harassment hotline for women in politics and state government.
In light of recent news stories about long running sexual harassment and assault moving to the forefront of our national discourse, NOW-NY cites Albany’s own history or sexual misconduct in explaining the need for a dedicated hotline for victims to share their story.
Last week, a letter signed by more than 140 women exposed the pervasive culture of sexual harassment in the California State Capitol. The signers, which included legislators, staff, political consultants and lobbyists, recalled their experiences from being groped to fending off numerous inappropriate advances.
And on Wednesday, lawmakers in Illinois released an open letter describing sexual harassment and intimidation with more than 130 signatures.
“Government sets the standard and the policies and the laws that all other industries are asked to uphold,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women – New York. “Given that Albany is a place where lawmakers have abused their power and sexual harassment has gone unchecked in the past, we felt it was important to give women in politics a platform to speak up.”
In 2013, Assemblyman Vito Lopez resigned after being censured for groping and intimidating female staffers.
In 2014 assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak stepped down after facing accusations of sexual harassment by seven staffers.
Also in 2014, former Assemblyman Micah Kellner declined to seek re-election after two complaints of sexual harassment against him.
In 2016 Gabryszak’s successor, Angela Wozniak, was disciplined and banned from hiring interns after she retaliated against a staffer who had reported sexual harassment.
From 1999 to 2015 a total of six legislators have left office because of some form of sexual misconduct, according to Citizens Union’s “Albany Corruption Tracker.”
“Women are putting aside self-blame and doubt and calling out their sexual harassers,” Ossorio said. “This is a tipping point, and we need to push for an end to the pervasiveness of sexual harassment that has infected the lives of working women everywhere.”
In a speech at Berkeley College in Manhattan on Oct. 18, Melissa DeRosa, the governor’s top aide, spoke about her own experiences with Albany’s culture of misogyny and harassment throughout her career in politics and public service.
“These instances have stuck with me, but I’m not kidding myself and neither should you – many women have and still do experience far worse every day, and it’s not just actresses you’re reading about in the news this week,” DeRosa said in her speech. “Before it was Hollywood, it was Albany, and before it was Albany it was Madison Avenue and Washington D.C. before that.
“It’s doctors, lawyers, athletes, investment bankers, political staffers and reporters. And too often they don’t speak out because they are afraid of what happens if they do – just ask Anita Hill.”
Women can report their own experiences with harassment by calling the hotline at 518-362-7857 or making a submission online at nownys.org