On October 14, 2018, The Des Moines Register published an article that outlined the toxic workplace environment at the Iowa State Capitol. The article delved into more than 1,000 pages of court documents previously unavailable to the public. These documents were part of a sexual harassment lawsuit brought against the state by former Senate Republican staffer Kirsten Anderson. Ms. Anderson won her case in July of 2017.
In 2018, a landmark study was released by Stop Street Harassment and Raliance. The study looked at sexual harassment and assault in the United States in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which exploded on social media a year ago today. According to this report, 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men experienced sexual misconduct.
The following is a statement from Beth Barnhill, Executive Director for the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, in response to the Register's article:
We are appalled by the nature of the abuse described in this reporting. It's disheartening to know that sexual harassment, racism, and homophobia is perpetrated by some of the lawmakers we rely on to pass legislation to protect victims and survivors in the first place. What's more, the steps the legislature has taken to address these issues have been lackluster at best. This is a critical moment for the legislature to review its policies and to emphasize research-based prevention strategies. There must be accountability for unacceptable and harmful behavior.
Recent events have illustrated how much work needs to be done to curb a culture that allows sexual violence to permeate. Even a year after #MeToo exploded across social media, some in power continue to make excuses for their abhorrent and demeaning actions.
Lawmakers need to take notice: survivors are listening, we're not going to take it anymore, and—perhaps most importantly—we vote.
The National Women's Law Center released a report this month documenting national progress in catalyzing change to end workplace harassment. In the past year, state legislators from across the country introduced over 100 bills to strengthen protections against workplace harassment. Notably, Iowa is not included in this report.
Activist Tarana Burke founded the #MeToo movement in 2006 to help survivors of sexual violence find healing and strength. On October 15, 2017, actress Alyssa Milano invited survivors to share their experiences of sexual harassment and sexual violence on social media using the hashtag #MeToo. Ms. Milano's tweet, in response to surfacing reports of Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein's serial predatory behavior against women, went viral. The #MeToo movement has gained traction since then, spurring an ongoing dialogue about sexual violence and what we can do to stop it.