Criticizing sexual harassment is easy, but coming up with a solution is tough.
“If women could fix the problem on their own, it would have been done already,” Lucy Kennedy of West St. Paul said Friday, Nov. 17 as about 100 people gathered at a Minnesota Capitol rally against sexual harassment.
“There just aren’t enough women elected,” she told Forum News Service, and a culture remains that allows men to deal with women inappropriately.
Her comments came before sexual harassment victims, political leaders and heads of women’s organizations spoke to the Capitol rotunda crowd. Since rally planning began, two Minnesota state legislators have been accused of improperly dealing with women and U.S. Sen. Al Franken was accused by an entertainer of forcing a kiss, followed by him posing for a photo appearing to grab her breasts as she slept on an airplane during a USO tour.
Pauline Wahl of Maple Grove said one thing women can do is what has become more common in recent weeks: “You speak up.”
The retired Minot, N.D., educator said people can attend events such as the rally to show support.
It is not just women who can fix the situation, Wahl added. Men need “the courage to stop a conversation when it turns to harassment.”
Like Kennedy, Wahl said that one of the real solutions is to “have women in high places.”
Democratic women lawmakers at the rally, where the audience frequently chanted “I believe her,” said they are optimistic that more females will be elected to office.
About half of House Democrats are women, with a lower percentage on the Republican side and in the Senate.
One of those who has talked about being a victim is Rep. Laurie Halverson, D-Eagan. On Tuesday, she broke her silence about being harassed several times by a male lawmaker, whom she has not named.
She told of three incidents, including a lawmaker showing her a photo of a male’s genitals, “against my will.”
“I don’t know what would drive someone to show me a dirty picture,” Halverson said in a Friday interview, noting that she is a 50-year-old mother and wife.
She said she knows there are other similar stories, but told Forum News Service that she does not know about any more lawmakers who plan to tell their stories in public.
Stories that have been reported are not shocks, she said. “I was surprised that people are surprised.”
Halverson, who took office in 2013, said she noticed a marked increase in women legislators being harassed last year, when their numbers in the House increased and they began “using their voices strongly.”
Men’s reaction, she said, was to harass women to control them.
“The roots are deep in our society,” she said, and she noticed harassment from male legislators of all ages.
Anti-sexual harassment training is a start to ease the problem, she said. But she also suggested that the House establish a process to deal with sexual harassment of legislators. The existing Ethics Committee is too political to do that, she said.
Other changes are needed in the Legislature, she said, including leaders taking quicker action when complaints arise.
Despite the problems, Halverson remains optimistic things can improve “as long as you keep asking questions,” she told a reporter.
Rep. Jennifer Schultz, D-Duluth, said she is confident the number of elected women will increase. The stay-at-home mom is less common than years ago, she said, and women’s traditional reluctance to seek elective office is decreasing.
Sen. Sandra Pappas, D-St. Paul, said change must start with parents teaching their children about not harassing others. Schools also should be involved, she added.
“It is kind of tied to bullying,” she said, which schools already teach against.
The veteran senator said that “a lot of men have done dumb things,” but they can be like Franken and apologize before things get worse. “I’m not a zero tolerance person, but I am a three strikes and you’re out person.”
After the success of women running for the Legislature in recent years, Pappas said, the political scene looks good for them again next year. The #MeToo movement that has brought forth many women to talk about harassment they have suffered will do nothing but help the cause, she added.