State Rep. Wants Better Process For Beacon Hill Sexual Misconduct Investigations

Apr 9, 2019

A Massachusetts House of Representatives investigation last month cleared a lawmaker of alleged sexual harassment of a member-elect.

State lawmakers are holding a public hearing Tuesday on multiple bills that deal with student sexual misconduct on campus. 

First Hampshire District Representative Lindsay Sabadosa says Beacon Hill lawmakers and staffers need better protections in harassment cases, including a framework for impartial fact-finding.

Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, First Hampshire District: I was disappointed in the way that the investigation was handled, because it was lawmakers investigating other lawmakers.

My point is we're going to be dealing with legislation where we talk about sexual assault and harassment on college campuses, and lawmakers will be making the argument that students should not be judging other students, because they are not qualified to do so.

I believe that to be very true in the Statehouse: lawmakers should not be judging other lawmakers. We should have independent investigations. There should not be secret committees. People should feel comfortable coming forward.

I've filed legislation around this. So I think I'm a little bit of a beacon. I have a lot of people who come to me and talk to me about their experiences in the building. And it's just consistently shocking the number of people who have experienced harassment and assault, and who don't feel comfortable because of the power structure that's there, and because they know that that is the power structure that will be used to decide, basically, whether they're telling the truth, or whether anyone really wants to move forward with their claim.

And I mean, people don't want to lose their jobs. People want to be effective lawmakers. And it is not — there's not currently a process that allows you to both report, and to continue to work effectively in the building.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: Is there any talk, maybe in the women's caucus, to change some of the measures, and talk to the Speaker about beefing up the language in that act?

I don't know that it's even a question of beefing up the language. I think it's absolutely a question of changing the process. I know that there are conversations that are happening. 

You know, to be fair, sexual assault and harassment, as we have seen, is not only suffered by female legislators and aides. We've had very clear instances in the Statehouse where men have been survivors of assault and harassment, as well. So there's there's definitely sympathy.

But I think the group that's interested in making these changes is still very small, because you know what speaking out can mean for your career. That, of course, is true across all professions, unfortunately.

Arbiters of appropriateness; the intent of intimacies in politics: should that reside in the hands of voters, or should there be a push to actually solidify what people are talking about, so there's a framework for dealing with this across the board — not just in the Statehouse, but across the country?

I think that voters certainly should make, you know, the final say when it comes to the Statehouse and other governing bodies. But I do think that having a framework is really helpful. And then it presents challenges, which, again is how you need to have people who are professionals in this field deal with survivors of harassment and assault regularly who understand the complexity of these cases, helping to set that framework, because these cases are difficult.

They're not cookie cutter. You can't just say, oh, well, you know, that person touched someone else's hand, and therefore that was an unwanted touch — that's not always the case. And there needs to be ways where we make these determinations, but at the very least, know when someone comes forward and says, "I was made to feel uncomfortable, I was put in a difficult situation." A person who was the perpetrator in that case needs to acknowledge that.

What is it that we tell our kids when it comes to dealing either with discussions around campus sexual assault or sexual assault in politics? What is the line that we draw in the sand for the next generation?

You know, I don't know what the line in the sand is. But what I do tell my daughter is that assault and harassment happen every single day. I feel fairly confident that she will, at some point in her life, be a survivor of definitely harassment, and I certainly hope not, assault, but I can't promise her that.

We don't live in a world where I can make promises to my child that she will be safe. And what I do tell her is that if anything happens to her, I am there for her, that I will do everything I can to help her, that we have a circle of people around us who will do everything they can to help and protect her.

But for right now, my job is to go into the Statehouse on a daily basis and fight for systematic change in our society. And I will continue to do that. And until that happens, I just can't promise my child that she will be safe, and that is one of the saddest realizations I have ever had as a parent.