Through sharing their own stories and insights, the experience can become a moment of authority and empowerment, which is a rare opportunity.
Sexual violence and harassment is about asserting power and dominance over the victims. Usually the narrative is played out not only in the moment but years after, as those in power decide whether or not to use what has happened as a weapon against you, which until #MeToo was always embarrassing and shameful, devoid of the justice that survivors so deserve.
So it is fitting that after #MeToo, survivors should be invited to co-create with legislators the policies that would protect them.
The Sexual Harassment Working Group is a coalition of seven former legislative staffers who experienced or witnessed sexual harassment in Albany by former assembly members Vito Lopez and Micah Kellner, former counsel to Speaker Sheldon Silver Michael Boxley, and State Senator Jeff Klein.
They took their harassers to trial and learned just how broken the system was. They are currently lobbying to have the state legislature hold public hearings and invite survivors to testify to help shape legislation based on their experiences.
This would also be the first hearing since 1992 on this issue in New York State.
However, the state legislature has instead done a rush job to draft a sexual harassment policy with only a 20-day comment period. It doesn't feel, to me, that New York State wants feedback at all, let alone clear and meaningful feedback from those whom the system has already failed.
Also, the early critique of the sexual harassment draft policy is that it is a mess, unclear, and contradictory. The nuance necessary in a sexual harassment policy would address not only policy, but the workplace cultures and practices that make harassment prevalent and reporting difficult.
They also vastly underserve employees and employers at small businesses. The timeline for reporting harassment is also extremely short, and given the trauma of this kind of interpersonal violence, people need time to process.
The former staffers who form the Sexual Harassment Working Group reviewed the law and found that in every instance, this new law would not have advanced their own cases.
It would be wise for the State Senate and Assembly to follow the advice of the working group and hold meaningful hearings.
Liz Krueger is carrying a sign on letter asking for hearings in the State Senate, which has been signed by Brian Kavanaugh but not by Martin Dilan. Similarly, the sign on letter for the Assembly, being carried by Dan Quart, has been signed by Maritza Davila but not by Joe Lentol.
We must require our government to honor the voices of victims and see their experiences as expert when we are trying to reform the system that harmed them. We must demand that Lentol and Dilan sign this letter and support the rights of victims to be heard.
Find out more at harassmentfreealbany.com.