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Stava-Murray letter to Jessica Basham

Friday, Dec 14, 2018

Hi Jessica,

Since we didn’t have time to meet while I was in Springfield, wanted to send you a text update and ask for your email to send you some questions.

I had to take a mental health morning more than one day (Wed before I met with the speaker and Fri missing out on professional development in both cases), because it was very stressful going into a workplace with so much recent and ongoing sexual harassment and retaliation uncovered. I am still experiencing PTSD from prior workplace sexual assault and recovering from PPD, which I experienced setbacks from/resulting increase of depression and anxiety due to my week in Springfield.

At the time I spoke to you while I was leaving Springfield, I indicated a lack of urgency about meeting because I didn’t want to make more waves so soon after voting against the speaker on the basis of voting against a leader who by his own admission allowed a culture to flourish that damaged countless women (having disparate impact on who could have seniority in Springfield) and as I had - as a direct result of my planned and very public rationale for the vote - fielded several calls from colleagues seeking to change my mind about my vote that had made me actively worry about retaliation if I didn’t “choose my battles wisely” and if I “started off on the wrong foot.”

Multiple callers said verbatim the same catchphrases and statements to me, which was very unusual, almost like they had a similar email they were reading from. It was not so subtly hinted that I would be an ineffectual legislator if I voted against the speaker, struggling to get my bills called and having colleagues not work with me for fear of retribution.

I also received five letters from Unions that were comprised of the exact same text, differing headers, and various misspellings of my name (most called me Anna or Murray, neither of which are accurate) calling upon me to vote for the speaker, which also seemed to be prompted from a single source.

When I met with the speaker to discuss why I couldn’t vote for him (which he can attest was highly distressing to me as it caused me to cry abundantly as I strongly fear retribution and my PTSD is triggered by the new workplace environment), he assured me that it was his intention to work with me and that he would mention that much in his speech the next day. He also told me there would be six nominations and to consider carefully what I said for the vote and asked me to consider voting the equivalent of present instead of the equivalent of “Nay.”

When the caucus day come, he had found additional nominations and made no mention of an intention of working together with me. I also noticed that while the rest of the first year class were given their seat assignments according to their last name, the one who nominated him was given priority and seated before the rest of us with names towards the end of the alphabet. I know he had met with five first years and I noticed only one had been given priority in seating arrangements.

This is disturbing because the message sent is that if one applauds a leader that failed to address sexual harassment, one is given career opportunities others are not given access to. I’m sure you can understand my reticence to speak to you in the immediate aftermath of that scene.

Now that I’ve had some time at home to process and recover, I am reaching out to inform you so you can take immediate action, with weeks still before we all return to Springfield.

Further, I wanted to let you know about something that transpired the night after the caucus vote in the IL Democratic Women’s Caucus meeting. I trust you will pass along the above as well as the following story to the Speaker.

The evening of the Women’s Caucus at the hotel (which is obviously a non-profit but there for professional development of state employees)- I was late to dinner because I was chatting with my kids on FaceTime & stopped to check in with another legislator that received some racially targeted harassment earlier in the evening.

Once I got my food, I went to sit down and one of the only free seats with silverware still out was next to Barbara Flynn Currie. I sat down and began to ask her questions about the highlights of her career when she completely changed the subject and began to lambaste me for my vote the prior day (addressing me as “Mary” several times) and threatening me that I had better change my vote by January.

I explained to her exactly what I had told the speaker about survivors and wanting to have them feel heard and she proceeded to make an obviously false claim that there hadn’t ever been any harassment and went on to victim blame and shame survivors (whilst continuing to call me “Mary.”) I was there for professional development and not harassment for advocating for workplace safety and the opinion of the outgoing legislator was neither invited nor appreciated.

Another legislator had walked over to try and calm her while she yelled at me about my upcoming vote and her denial of any wrongdoing or need for leadership to take responsibility for what continues to transpire in Springfield (I was forcibly kissed at dinner one night as were three other first year female legislators, while our male colleague at the table received no kiss and a firm hand on his shoulder, which also appeared to make him uncomfortable).

Since Barbara continued to yell at me even as I was trying to eat my dinner through my obvious distress, I decided to leave my dinner to avoid harassment (even though it was my only opportunity for food in an isolated location). I informed her my name was Anne and then left so distressed I forgot my room key at the table and had to have another legislator bring it to because I didn’t want to return and continue to be very publicly shamed.

I ended up putting on makeup and a fake smile and going back downstairs (missed half of game night) and received a hug from someone else who had seen why I had to leave.

The era of any of the above coming close to acceptable is over. I am concerned that the official reporting process requires me to reveal my identity as this seems a not so subtle way to ensure victims face career consequences while alleged perpetrators receive a slap on the wrist if any consequences at all.

I plan to report not only the multi-pronged harassment I sustained prior to my vote, which was inordinately likely to happen to a female as women are much more like to have sustained workplace harassment in the past, but also the unwanted kiss.

There is no excuse for a colleague to kiss other colleagues, least of all “because they kiss everyone” as was reported to me by someone else after I mentioned the disturbing harassment.

If any colleagues decide to participate in attempting to socially isolate me, verbally spread rumors about me in an attempt to discredit me, vow to not work with me, not call my bills, or the speaker assigns a higher proportion of my bills to languish in the rules committee as is the oft-cited expected retribution of choice, there will be subsequent complaints filed in each perceived instance of retribution. I will not be a quiet victim as has been counseled to me as a requirement to be effective. Requiring such is not only immoral; it is in fact, illegal.

It is an employers’ responsibility to ensure equal opportunities. Change is not optional and what has been done falls extremely short of what an equal workplace looks like.

Also, this is a small complaint indicative of a larger culture of inequality, but why am I only allowed 7 or 8 characters on the board while others are given 11? This inequality also has disparate impact on women who are vastly more likely to have chosen to hyphenate or connect their last name for a reason. Being told one must “choose” which name appears makes no sense when my name is my name. A hyphen in the middle makes its 12 characters no less legitimate than any other person’s name. Unequal treatment is unacceptable in all forms.

I look forward to hearing more about what imminent changes there will be to ensure no further harassment, inequality or retribution for myself or others.

Finally, since it is triggering for me, I will not be working on solving the immediate issues of the culture of workplace harassment, assault, and abuse of power that has been allowed to flourish in the (D) caucus as it pertains to the Speaker’s responsibilities as he was the chosen elected leader and the burden of responsibility for ensuring an equal workplace shall fall to him.

I would also like to point out that it is mainly women who have been required to do free additional labor in addition to their paid responsibilities while the men did not seem to have any urgency or unpaid volunteer spirit in fixing the culture they abused and continue to abuse with little fear of sanction.

If anything, the apparent coverups and lack of accountability, transparency and integrity in the investigations (how many were actually done out of how many complaints?) have made it more seemingly pointless for anyone to come forward.

I will focus my energy on legislation so no others have to go through the indignity that seems to be our current “process” which is a generous term for what transpires in response to official complaints.

I will also not be taking any calls on this topic while you work through all of the above as I would like written documentation of all exchanges to ensure fairness and a lack of harassment.

Thank you in advance for your understanding and what I am sure will be your timely resolutions to the above problems before we all return to Springfield for inauguration.

- Rep. Elect Stava-Murray

- Posted by Rich Miller        

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