Maryland General Assembly sexual harassment report highlights 'fraternity house' environment

A new report from the Women's Caucus of the Maryland General Assembly details accounts of harassment from staff, including interns and lobbyists as development continue with the "#MeToo" movement across the country.

The Caucus issued a Sexual Harassment Policy Recommendations guide as suggestions for future protocol, which has been in the works since 2016.

The Women's Caucus says members of the Women Legislators of Maryland "collected stories about perceived harassment from our peers, staff interns, and lobbyists."

There are public testimonies from Nina Smith, Former Press Secretary under Governor Martin O'Malley, and retired lobbyist Robin Schavit, who says she was sexually harassed almost every day.

In the reports, an anonymous former staffer said, "I asked a Senator I had worked for to write me a recommendation for law school and he said he'd only do it because I had cleavage exposed that day."

Other accounts include an anonymous current staffer who said, "A legislator came into my office and sat down very close to me. We were alone in my boss' office and he closed the door. He started telling me how I had a lot of potential, reached over and started rubbing my knees. I froze and he put his hands all the way up my skirt. I stood up and asked him to leave."

The Maryland General Assembly says it became the 29th state in the nation to voluntarily develop an internal policy against sexual harassment in 1993.

The Women's Caucus says the policy was made following high-profile allegations of sexual harassment against a legislator, which were raised by a lobbyist in judicial confirmation hearings.

While it did not protect lobbyists, reporting members would be handled by the Presiding Officers or their staff.

With over 20 years since the policy's creation, Women's Caucus President Delegate Ariana Kelly says the new policy recommendations "maintain the same basic structure today, although it has been updated and modernized multiple times. Despite this progress, the problem is far from solved. The recent #MeToo movement has brought to light a culture in which sexual harassment is still pervasive, and its harm too often ignored."

A new working group was created to focus on finalizing specific recommendations for modernizing the policy, expanding the pool of stakeholders covered to include lobbyists and expanded accountability measures.

"Our recommendations would require the use of independent investigators to conduct investigations into alleged member misconduct, to remove the responsibility from any political stakeholders," said Delegate Kelly.

The full report can be ready on the Women's Caucus website.