How 6th District Dems would combat sexual harassment
Democratic candidates for U.S. Congress in the 6th District have been listening to the #MeToo stories of sexual harassment with the same disgust and disappointment that many residents feel.
But at a recent forum in Glen Ellyn, each of the seven running in the March 20 primary for the chance to oppose Republican U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam of Wheaton in November, said they're convinced the nation can do better.
Asked a question about women's issues by a moderator with the League of Women Voters, the candidates focused much of their responses on harassment, why it's so problematic and how to fight it with policies, laws and social changes. Here's what they said in the order in which they spoke.
Becky Anderson Wilkins
At the bookshop where Anderson Wilkins, a 60-year-old Naperville City Council member, is an owner, the employee handbook has had "very strict rules" about sexual harassment "for decades," she said. Anderson Wilkins said she applauds everyone who has come forward with a story of being affected by mistreatment.
"We need to encourage everyone to stand up," she said. "Because the more we stand up, the more we're going to fight it and the sooner we're going to end it."
Cheney, 57, of Naperville, wrote her own #MeToo essay in December, telling of a "personal violation" by a professor she met with after doing poorly on a test at the University of Illinois. She wrote that the professor moved his chair close to hers, patted her leg and kissed her as she cried about her bad test score.
"I was reaching out in a vulnerable moment to this teacher, who was in a position of power and trust, and he violated both by making an unwanted sexual advance," Cheney wrote.
She described the "inappropriate advances" during her answer to a separate question at last week's forum, when she told an audience of roughly 400 that she reported the professor's conduct and he ultimately was fired.
Cheney, who worked recently as district chief of staff for 11th District U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, summed up harassment as an issue of control.
"Until women are in places of power," she said, "they're going to continue to be harassed. So to me, this is a power issue, and it's not only for women. It's for all people who aren't adequately represented in places of power."
Zordani, a 54-year-old financial services regulatory attorney from Clarendon Hills, said policies and laws can and do help deter harassment. So industries should first look to regulations to set a tone against improper behavior.
"Our laws help protect workers against harassment," Zordani said. "And we see in the corporate world less issues -- still some, but less. And we see in places where there's less structure, more harassment, like Hollywood and politics."
To lessen cases of workplace sexual harassment, Casten, a 46-year-old scientist and entrepreneur from Downers Grove, said employers should remember, "we're all just humans, right?" He said this approach pays dividends in morale and productivity, which should be all the impetus businesses need.
"If you just treat all people equally, people who have been treated horribly before say, 'This place is awesome. I want to work harder here,' and like it better and you get better performance out of everyone," Casten said. "Do it for totally selfish reasons. It makes for a wonderful environment."
Efforts to address sexual harassment shouldn't focus only on women, but also on men, transgender people and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community, said Howland, a 65-year-old civil rights attorney and College of Lake County trustee.
"As far as harassment is concerned, it's not gender-specific and it's not race-specific," Howland said. "It happens in the workplace regardless of your race or your gender. And we need to continue to enforce policies against that kind of harassment. I've been a subject of it as others of us have been."
Huffman, a 31-year-old data analyst from Palatine, said political figures who are the subject of sexual harassment claims need to be held accountable, no matter to which party their loyalties lie. He said accountability for those at the top will help prevent other situations of harassment.
"They need to be punished now," Huffman said about politicians facing harassment allegations. "They shouldn't be allowed to use taxpayer money to have these hush settlements."
Parents and society need to take a stronger stance against sexual harassment and assault, said Mazeski, a 58-year-old Barrington Hills plan commissioner and former chemist.
"We need to teach our young children what is acceptable behavior when it comes to how to treat each other," she said. "We need, as parents and as people in society, to step up if we see abuse or sexual harassment happening, and men have to step up on this, too. It's permeated into our society."