An order was filed Thursday seeking to enact stricter sexual harassment policies in the Massachusetts Senate. Sen. Joan Lovely filed the order, mandating the creation of a special committee to review the current Senate policies and procedures related to sexual harassment in the workplace.
The mostly female committee is composed of nine senators, two of whom were appointed by the minority leaders. Additionally, Sen. Harriette Chandler, the Senate president, will serve as an ex-officio member of the committee and cast the tiebreaking vote if need be.
Lovely, the chair of the committee and sponsor of the bill that created it, said in a press release that one of the committee’s primary responsibilities is to enact stronger policies that ultimately encourage those affected by sexual harassment to speak out.
“It is imperative that we ensure Senate policies and procedures encourage victims to come forward and we adhere to that zero tolerance policy,” Lovely said.
Chandler said in the press release the Senate’s duty is to create more comprehensive approaches to solving the issue of sexual harassment so that all people involved in Senate business receive the necessary protections.
“The Senate has a responsibility to its members, its employees and to all those who do business here to ensure that all are given the fullest protections from workplace sexual harassment,” Chandler said.
Linda Hogu, 65, of Allston, expressed her support for the Senate order and said she was pleased that the issue of sexual harassment would be given more attention. Hogu said she believes the special committee should implement enhanced laws and policies that cater to those affected by the harassment.
“[The Senate] should definitely make stricter laws for that because it’s been going on for such a long time and it’s just now coming out,” Hogu said. “There’s a lot of people, especially females, that just don’t talk about it, especially in the workforce.”
Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents victims of sexual abuse, said he believes the committee will be crucial in eliciting change in the ongoing issue of sexual harassment.
“The formation of the committee is a step in the right direction in order to prevent sexual harassment,” Garabedian told The Daily Free Press. “It is important for the committee to be effective — that its members consist of victims of sexual harassment.”
Garabedian said he believes it is crucial for those who have suffered from sexual harassment to implement their unique experiences by working alongside such a committee.
“Victims of sexual harassment will provide a perspective which cannot otherwise be provided concerning the issues of sexual harassment,” Garabedian said. “There is no substitute for the victim’s perspective. It is very important for many members to listen to victims of sexual harassment so that meaningful change can take place.”
Cynthia Ellison, 47, of Brighton, said she hopes enforcement against sexual harassers in local government will influence and improve the safety of Boston communities.
“[I hope they will] start the discussion amongst individuals and then communities and families and for everybody [trying to find] a safer way to connect with one another,” Ellison said.
Kurt Douglas, 38, of Allston, said he is afraid stricter sexual harassment policies could make the workplace unsafe for men who might be personally targeted with sexual harassment allegations.
“What I sometimes have caution about is that it doesn’t turn into a witch hunt for men in the workplace,” Douglas said. “It’s just finding that fine line where it doesn’t become this space where it becomes an easy target to point fingers at men in the workplace — how do we make these rules where it protects both people?”
The committee has a deadline of May 15 to report their findings to the clerk of the Senate.