Editorial: Illinois legislators need sexual harassment training
Rumors have abounded for years that the atmosphere around the state Capitol in Springfield is one of, shall we say, excess.
From that standpoint, it was not all that surprising to hear last week of multiple allegations of sexual harassment, including at least several that apparently were never fully investigated. In the same week, State Sen. Ira Silverstein was ousted from his Democratic leadership position after harassment allegations were leveled against him.
Sexual harassment, of course, is a major societal problem, as a recent spate of reports of it from Hollywood and all walks of life clearly illustrate.
Perhaps the grass-roots #metoo and #nomore campaigns that sprang up in response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal will lead to a great cleansing and a cultural change that ends a mindset of domination that enables such harassment. We all can at least hope for that outcome.
But at the state Capitol, if those kinds of changes are to happen there, our elected officials need to get serious about it. It starts with legislation to require training to educate state government employees and lobbyists about sexual harassment and to develop procedures for reporting and punishing violators.
State Rep. Steve Reick of Woodstock recoiled at the proposal, saying that by requiring him to undergo the training, the legislation would imply he is part of the problem simply because he's a male.
He misunderstands the issue and the goal of the training. It's designed to help everyone understand the importance of respect in a work environment and to clarify standards of behavior. It's not punitive. It's educational. And it's similar to training many corporations provide.
Clearly, a lot of people don't know where the line is drawn. Maybe Reick does, in which case he can help explain it to everybody else. But the training is for the victims, too -- how you don't have to accept harassment, how it doesn't make you weak if you fight it, and where you can report it.
Sexual harassment isn't so much about sex as it is about power. Mostly men wield it, and mostly women are victims of it, although that's not a strict rule. The issue's especially pertinent in a place of power like Springfield. It's difficult to change a culture of attitudes and behavior without this training.
As the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform points out, the Illinois Human Rights Act requires state agencies to maintain a sexual harassment program. It does because the legislature decided those programs are worthwhile. The same legislature excluded itself from the requirement.
Every department, agency, board and commission is required to protect against sexual harassment. But the state legislature isn't.
That needs to change.
It's time for the General Assembly to take sexual harassment seriously.