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Open letter alleges widespread sexual harassment

Tuesday, Oct 24, 2017 - Posted by Rich Miller

* I told subscribers about this in detail earlier today, but here’s the brief AP follow-up

An open letter alleging widespread sexual harassment in Illinois politics and urging women and their allies to come forward is circulating around the state Capitol.

More than 130 people signed the letter as of Tuesday including legislators and lobbyists. The incidents mentioned in the letter don’t accuse anyone by name but the letter does outline scenarios involving male legislators, including a “chamber leader.”

Political fundraiser Katelynd Duncan says the goal isn’t to out people but to change the culture in Springfield. There’s a private Facebook group with nearly 500 members and a legislative resolution is expected.

The potentially explosive open letter is here. The group’s Facebook page is here.

* This is something that didn’t make it into this morning’s piece from Becky Carroll…

A number of women in Illinois who have worked on campaigns and in government as staffers, as well as consultants, have been engaged in a conversation over the past week around a culture of sexual harassment in Illinois politics. And the more conversations we’ve had with one another the more it’s become apparent just how pervasive this is. Everyone has at least one story of their own, and the common thread has been that most times we’ve had to brush these advances off out of fear of retribution or of being accused of leading someone on or have been encouraged to stay quiet. But the bottom line is this has become the status quo and it’s time for it to come to an end. This letter was written to not only shine a light on the collective experiences that many women share, but to also open the door to a conversation around how we can change this culture. That starts with women sharing their stories. We must also recognize that not all women are comfortable sharing their stories publicly and that’s OK because collectively we will be their voice. There is absolutely no judgment allowed in this group.

We consider this to be an organic process. We started by creating a home on Facebook where women can go to share their stories and engage in a conversation with one another about their experiences and their hopes for change. We also created a letter that women, and the male allies who support them, can sign onto to demonstrate their solidarity. We’ve received an incredible and heartfelt outpouring of support for creating a space where women can engage in this conversation and are discussing next steps in this process. We believe that the solution shouldn’t come from the top down, but from the bottom up and as a collaborative effort driven by the people most impacted and those who have the power to change it. Ultimately the hope is simply to bring an end to the culture of sexual harassment in Illinois politics.

We serve in politics in one form or other because we have committed our lives to being part of the solution in making life better for the people of Illinois. In doing so, we need to make sure that we feel safe, secure and respected as we go about that work.

* Some of the women who worked on the letter, according to Carroll…

Ellie Bahrmasel
Katelynd Duncan
Rep. Sara Feigenholtz
Rep. Toi Hutchinson
Anne Szkatulski
Kate LeFurgy
City Clerk Anna Valencia


  1. - Robert the Bruce - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 11:53 am:

    Good. I hope it gets better, and I also hope a few are outed, even if that’s not their goal.

  2. - Sonny - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 12:02 pm:

    Looking forward to the signatories calling out people by name and dropping serial harassers as clients.

  3. - PJ - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 12:05 pm:

    ===calling out people by name===

    You have to understand that this could absolutely ruin the careers of the people brave enough to name names. Not directly or immediately, but it would happen. I want to see names too, but I also understand that it’s asking a great deal of these women to put their livelihoods on the line.

  4. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 12:14 pm:

    I’d advise people to take this seriously. Recent history has shown many times that once the dam breaks, the flood comes.

  5. - Montrose - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 12:15 pm:

    ===calling out people by name===

    What PJ said. And even those of us with secondhand stories can’t just start dropping names because a) they are secondhand, and b) doing so could pull in the woman (or women) that experienced the harassment when they don’t want to be pulled in.

  6. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 12:16 pm:

    ===And even those of us with secondhand stories can’t just start dropping names because===

    C) Because it could get you banned here as well.

  7. - Amalia - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 12:47 pm:

    I’m hoping that all sides of the governor’s race…in both parties….decide to tell their truth here.

  8. - cdog - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 12:48 pm:

    Classy way to roll, ladies. Nicely done.

    So far, I have not seen the word “assault” used. I hope that this is because there have been none.

    Training on SH is great but there also needs to be a reporting mechanism that is safe for victims.

    (Many years ago, 1983, a young female sailor had to request a voluntary captain’s mast and speak to a Captain of a USNaval base about severe sex harassment. Luckily, the perp was forced into retirement within hours, never to be seen at the command again. #bosshero)

    Besides training, there needs to be consequences for documented out of control behavior. The perps should be fearful of indulging in this type of power play.

  9. - walker - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 12:51 pm:

    I’m all for an “organic” group process.

    I’m all for better training and safer reporting processes.

    But the Leaders themselves (Rauner, Madigan, Durkin, Cullerton and Brady) must make clear, personally, in their caucuses and staff meetings, that sexual harassment will not be tolerated by them. Leaders will either lead or get crushed by this welcome movement.

  10. - BothSidesofHisMouth - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 1:09 pm:

    It’s not the clients, Sonny, who are the big problem (though I am sure there are some). It’s the legislators, some fellow lobbyists and some senior staff who are harassing female legislators, staff and lobbyists. To be clear, the legislators are the worst. It’s the folks who, like us, are forced to live half the year under the bubble of the dome.
    It’s nice how the male lobbyists don’t have to worry about their incomes being significantly reduced due to “taking a stand.” Just the women. Just the women are being encouraged to dump any clients (many self-employed contract lobbyists only have 2-4 clients) who might be harassing and to call out by name any legislators or staff or colleagues who might be harassing… Just the women are being asked to jeopardize their entire livelihoods for the good of the cause. And while the cause might well be aided, these women’s careers may never recover. Are any of you men honestly willing to sacrifice your entire professional career -
    right now, wife and children and mortgage will have to manage - for the betterment of those who might come after you? And for those of you who so casually toss out assertions that things will change when the ladies are finally willing to be specific: see Access Hollywood tapes and our President. Captured on tape, no denial and did he get reprimanded or punished? Nope. He got promoted by popular election to the most powerful elected office in the world. We (Americans) don’t deal with this stuff. We reward it at worst and at best we ignore it. But yeah, I am sure everyone will be on our side if we just start naming names… All the guilty creeps will suddenly find themselves out of work or out of office (now THAT would be a mass exodus) and all the women who complained will suddenly be flooded with more clients or work than they can handle. Sure. (heavy sarcasm)

  11. - cannon649 - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 1:27 pm:

    The timing here is interesting -
    As real truths come out will get to see the abusers and thier defense

    More Resignations Coming?

  12. - Amalia - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 1:29 pm:

    I think if the women organize this correctly, they might be able to find women who don’t have as much to lose who had the same experiences with the same men and then go public. this is what Gloria Allred does, find the women, then go public. A more strategic kind of solidarity. there has to be trust amongst people to share and then determine how to move things to a larger arena. note to those who have harassed, resign now.

  13. - anon2 - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 1:39 pm:

    The harassers are from both parties. There is raw hypocrisy when “family values” Republicans and “women’s rights” Democrats engage in such behavior.

  14. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 1:50 pm:

    The “nearly 500 members” of the FB group has dwindled down to 230. This is a “closed” rather than “private” FB group. A “private” FB group is not visible to anyone other than its members. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a result of the publicity the group has received, since its membership is not anonymous.

  15. - dbk - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 2:08 pm:

    Did everybody read the letter which as of Tuesday had 130 signatures? And within a day or so there are 500 members of a private FB group? This is serious, and it’s not going to go away.

    Sexual harassment in IL politics is revealed as (a) long-standing; (b) endemic; (c) engaged in at the higher levels (mention of both a powerful committee chair and a floor leader in the full text), and d) a common secret.

    I would assume the FB closed group will make it possible for women who have been harassed by particular individuals to link up with one another and strategize about further action(s).

    At some point, if this movement is to have real force, there will have to be names attached to behaviors (not here, obviously; this is not the venue).

    It can’t just be a matter of “from now on, everybody will mind their manners.”

    Men in powerful positions who do not condone such behavior need to speak out as a matter of course; women who are being subjected to such behavior need to band together (as I assume they’re doing); legislative leaders need to put their house in order, pronto and permanently.

    This is hard, and it’s not going to be pretty if it goes forward.

    Also: the idea that politics is being conducted after-hours in Springfield bars over copious quantities of alcohol doesn’t really cut it with serious, policy-sensitive voters.

    I’m all for politics being done at all hours - over coffee, accompanied by copious dosages of high-level policy discussions, with interludes for a review of the day’s posts on capitolfax.

    That would be, like, just about the perfect life.

    And if people find it too boring to carry out these duties in Springfield unassisted by alcohol, maybe they don’t find legislating as fascinating as they should.

    Finally, as of the moment of submission, I see there are 36 comments on the gov’s latest Swedish Grandfather pants-on-fire, 39 comments on the Fire Trucks, and 14 on this post.

    This isn’t very encouraging, frankly.

  16. - Century Club - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 2:13 pm:

    That is an impressive group of women. If I were a serial harasser in Springfield, I’d be worried right now.

  17. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 2:16 pm:

    The ‘pucker factor’ among politico’s is ‘7’, and rising. Perhaps more than a few “You know I was just kidding, RIGHT?!?” going on now.

  18. - Robert the Bruce - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 2:26 pm:

    dbk @2:08, good points all. But don’t be discouraged by the comment count today.

    Yesterday’s thread on this topic had 101 comments, more than any other thread.

  19. - dbk - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 2:38 pm:

    Robert the Bruce @2:26

    Yeah, I know; also the post on sexual harassment workshops has plenty of comments, so I considered that commenters were “commented out.”

    But this is really the “tell” post, and the response is underwhelming.

  20. - Anon Reg Commenter - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 4:46 pm:

    ==So far, I have not seen the word “assault” used. I hope that this is because there have been none.==

    It isn’t.

  21. - cdog - Tuesday, Oct 24, 17 @ 5:07 pm:

    Very sorry to hear that.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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