Jillian Gilchrest, a candidate for State Representative in the 18th district of West Hartford and long time advocate to prevent and address gender-based violence, provided testimony on Monday calling for a clear process for reporting and investigating complaints of sexual harassment involving lawmakers at the Connecticut General Assembly (CGA). The Joint Committee on Legislative Management held an Informational Hearing to better understand the CGA’s Sexual Harassment Policy.
Prior to the hearing, some in Leadership suggested that the lack of complaints means the policy is strong. “ If the CGA hasn’t received many complaints of sexual harassment,” said Gilchrest, “I see that as an indication that the policy is not strong, not that sexual harassment isn’t taking place.” Gilchrest explained that the CGA’s current process, of providing information on sexual harassment in The Bulletin, is inadequate and problematic. According to The Bulletin, complaints made by or against legislators should be brought to the attention of the appropriate caucus chief-of-staff or a caucus staff person of the opposite gender whom each chief-of-staff shall designate.
“The Chief of Staff holds a great deal of power, including over policy decisions and priorities, “ explained Gilchrest. “It may prove difficult for a staff member or lobbyist to report sexual harassment or abuse perpetrated by a lawmaker to the lawmaker’s Chief of Staff. For those working to move a piece of legislation through the CGA, it would be hard to report sexual harassment to the same person you need to meet with about legislation.”
Gilchrest advised that the CGA create a policy to be followed by all four caucuses and that the policy be made available to the public. She suggested lawmakers reference Public Act 14-11, AN ACT CONCERNING SEXUAL ASSAULT, STALKING AND INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE ON CAMPUS as a model because many of the best practices included in PA 14-11 can be adapted for a CGA sexual harassment policy.
Gilchrest recommends that any policy going forward include;
(1) easily accessible and detailed procedures that someone making a complaint of sexual harassment may follow if an incident has taken place;
(2) a diversity of contacts within the legislature to whom sexual harassment can be reported, including non-partisan staff;
(3) information on the availability of support services for the individual making the report, such as the Alliance to End Sexual Violence;
(4) a summary of disciplinary procedures including detailed information on who and how an investigation will be conducted and what possible disciplinary actions may be taken as a result of the investigation; and
(5) an anonymous reporting option.
“The CGA must create a culture in which staff and lobbyists feel safe reporting a sexual harassment complaint against a lawmaker, and not like their job or bill will be placed in jeopardy,” said Gilchrest. “A clear process for reporting and investigating complaints of sexual harassment involving lawmakers is a positive step in the right direction toward truly making the CGA the people’s building.”