I am a sexual abuse survivor. I kept that secret for 25 years. Late last month, I was able to join my colleagues in voting for the Child Victims Act, which protects survivors of sexual abuse and supports their recovery by enabling them to tell their stories. It created a safe space for me and other survivors to come forward. That’s necessary to fight sexual abuse of children and hold abusers to account.
Now we must move to create the same safe space in New York for survivors of sexual harassment. Wednesday, the state Senate and Assembly will hold joint legislative hearings — the first in 27 years — on the subject of sexual harassment in the workplace. The voices of victims of sexual harassment have not been heard by the Legislature since 1992. That silence ends now.
This subject is sometimes difficult to discuss. It can be uncomfortable, painful even. But it’s far too easy to shy away from difficult conversations and we must not allow ourselves that ease. Those who have been victimized suffer ongoing harm when we allow the silence to continue.
Everyone is invited to speak authentically. It will require courage to voice and hear testimony about experiences of harassment in the workplace. Supporting courageous witnesses is a fundamental part of our purpose.
The processes ahead — hearings, discussion and consultation — form a pathway toward the legislation needed to ensure safe working environments for all New Yorkers. In this work, we follow the lead of the City of New York, which held hearings that resulted in strong new rules, structures and policies that are an excellent model for the direction we are moving, starting now.
A group of brave women, the Sexual Harassment Working Group, have led the way, talking about being harassed by New York officials and staff and their attempts to address that harassment within the systems currently in place. These women have developed strong policy proposals aimed at protecting others from similar experiences. They demand that New York lead in fighting gender-based discrimination and harassment. They will be heard.
We will also hear from state and city government agencies about current policies and practices. And from unions, advocates and organizations working to end sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment, like sexual abuse, is about power. Systems that perpetuate these injustices, that neglect or silence victims — that enable abusers to carry on without consequences — those systems are elements of a power dynamic that led to the creation of policy absent female voices; that chapter is coming to a close. We will closely examine the procedures in place for reporting, investigation and adjudication to determine best practices for addressing allegations.
Our job as legislators is to identify obstacles to effective and fair processes, clear them away, and build new structures that promote safe workplaces for everyone.
Our state government is the second largest employer in New York. We must lead by example. We need to provide a safer workplace than all others, so that we can effectively set regulations for all employers. State senators like myself, members of the Assembly, and every other state employee must be held to the highest standards.
Every state agency, both houses of the Legislature and the executive branch — all need crystal clear, transparent protocols for reporting abuse and harassment, communicating with complainants in a time certain and consistent manner, and building a culture of support for victims with zero tolerance for abusive behavior. And there must be independent, fair, thorough and prompt investigations that produce clear findings and, when necessary, appropriate penalty.
The agenda of the hearing is to seek the truth. We come with questions, open minds and the resolve to make New York’s workplaces safer for everyone.