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IL Lawmakers to Attend Sexual-Harassment Awareness Training

Harassment is in the spotlight in Hollywood and in the Illinois Capitol. (illinois.gov)
Harassment is in the spotlight in Hollywood and in the Illinois Capitol. (illinois.gov)
November 6, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – State lawmakers in Illinois will have to attend sexual harassment awareness training. This after Majority Caucus Chair Ira Silverstein resigned from the Senate Democratic leadership team last week.

Victims’ rights advocate Denise Rotheimer accused him of harassing her, saying Silverstein used "power" and "mind games" against her and made comments about her appearance.

Colin Williams, policy director for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said awareness training is a first step, but state lawmakers need to take a stand and pass laws addressing both prevention and punishment.

"Especially the male legislators [need] to make a commitment to a proactive, transparent plan for preventing sexual harassment and addressing claims when they do arise,” Williams said. "These changes can't just be a short-term movement; they have to be a long-term commitment to improving the climate in Springfield."

Rotheimer questioned why her complaints about Silverstein went unanswered for so long, and said she thinks he should resign the Senate seat representing Chicago that he has held since 1999. Other political activists and lobbyists say they've also been harassed in Springfield.

An open letter is circulating around Springfield to collect signatures from women who have experienced harassment and intimidation.

Williams said the old saying – "it takes a village" – is true, and people must come together to prevent harassment. He said even though it's hard, people should speak up when they see others being harassed – even if what's being said or done is just on the borderline of being inappropriate.

"Even reaching out to someone and asking, 'Hey, did you feel uncomfortable when he made that comment to you?’” he said. "Some of the problem that we see isn't these extreme cases of an abuse of power, but it's these borderline situations where the person being targeted feels uncomfortable."

Senate President John Cullerton said a professionally led sexual-harassment awareness training seminar will be held this week. Harassment claims in Illinois used to be investigated by the Office of the Legislative Inspector General, but that position has been vacant since mid-2014.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IL