Women Speak Out, Name Names After Report On Sexual Harassment In State Capitol

Samantha Kersul said in 2009 a Democratic state Representative pinned her and forcefully kissed her against her will in a bar. She is one of several women to speak out in recent days about sexual harassment at the Washington Capitol. AUSTIN JENKINS / NORTHWEST NEWS NETWORK

Listen

It’s been an eventful and, for some, an emotional week in Olympia. On Tuesday,  a story was reported about women being sexually harassed in the state legislature. That reporting was in collaboration with The News Tribune of Tacoma and The Olympian. Since that story broke, more women have come forward on social media and in person to tell their stories of harassment at the Capitol.

At an outdoor café in downtown Seattle, Samantha Kersul holds the hand of a friend and tells the story of what happened to her one evening in 2009. She was out with some Democratic state lawmakers at a bar in downtown Olympia. Kersul, who was 25 at the time and trying to get a full-time job with the legislature, said at one point she got up to go to the bathroom and a state Representative named Brendan Williams followed her. But before she reached the bathroom …

 “He pushed me against a wall and he shoved his tongue down my throat. And I say it with that language because that’s what happened,” Kersul said.

Kersul said she pushed him off of her and yelled at him. She said that as she hurried out of the bar, Williams offered to write her a recommendation letter.

“And I’m still so angry about that because I think at that point I realized he was telling me how much power he had over me,” Kersul said. “That he could help my career or he could hurt my career.”

Kersul is one of four women to make allegations against Williams, who is no longer in elected office. Those allegations were first reported by the Associated Press. They followed our reporting on the workplace climate at Washington’s Capitol — a place where women we talked to said that unwelcome comments, attention and touching from male lawmakers and lobbyists are common. Some also told us they were inappropriately touched. Most said they did not report these behaviors for fear of it would hurt their careers. That’s why Kersul said as a 25-year-old she didn’t report what happened to her.

“I didn’t trust the institution,” Kersul said. “I didn’t trust the process. I didn’t trust that there was a way for me to come forward and not have it in some way jeopardize my ability to advance in my career.

In a statement, Williams wouldn’t address specific allegations against him but said “my past actions, on a few occasions, caused pain, and I own that responsibility and sincerely apologize.” Kersul is now a top official with the Washington state Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. And she’s one of several women who are describing experiences they’ve had while working in and around Washington’s legislature. Kersul says she decided to tell her story now in hopes it helps change the culture in Washington’s Capitol.

“There has to be a way for all victims to come forward safely and not feel ashamed or threatened,” Kersul said.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, a Democrat, agrees.

“We have to have a culture where people feel comfortable,” Sullivan said.

To that end, Sullivan said the Washington House of Representatives has been reviewing its harassment policies and procedures since January. He said the goal is to create a new policy that creates certainty.

“When an individual comes forward with an issue of harassment that we address it or they’re not going to come forward. And that’s something that has to be fixed,” Sullivan said.

But already women said something has changed. Sitting with Kersul as she told her story was lobbyist Rebecca Johnson.

“I hear conversations happening in a much more real way than I ever have before and I see the opportunity to help both for myself and my colleagues who I’ve been with all this time but also for the women coming up behind us,” Johnson said.

Copyright 2017 Northwest News Network

Related Stories:

Changing the clock for the first Daylight Saving Time in 1918. CREDIT: U.S. SENATE HISTORICAL OFFICE

Dread The Dark? West Coast Lawmakers Say It’s Time To Stop The Clock ‘Fall Back’ Routine

According to some Oregon and Washington legislators, it’s high time to get rid of the twice-yearly ritual of changing clocks. This past month, 60 percent of California voters approved Proposition 7, a ballot proposition to make daylight saving time permanent. Continue Reading Dread The Dark? West Coast Lawmakers Say It’s Time To Stop The Clock ‘Fall Back’ Routine

Read More »
Romaine lettuce is displayed on a shelf at a supermarket in California in April, during an E. coli outbreak traced to contaminated lettuce. The CDC says a new outbreak has made lettuce dangerous to eat, just in time for America's most foodcentric holiday. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Beware The Thanksgiving Salad: CDC Says No Romaine Lettuce Is Safe

Cut Caesar salad off the menu this week: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a multistate E. coli outbreak is underway, and romaine lettuce is to blame. 32 people are sick, including 13 who were hospitalized; no deaths have been reported. An additional 18 people were sickened in Canada. Continue Reading Beware The Thanksgiving Salad: CDC Says No Romaine Lettuce Is Safe

Read More »
Lt. Gov Cyrus Habib is requesting money in the next two year state budget to hire security. JEANIE LINDSAY / N3

‘A Necessary Precaution.’ Washington’s Blind Lieutenant Governor Wants Security At Public Events

Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib, who is blind and has faced vitriol online, is requesting funding in the next two-year state budget to hire security when he attends large, public events. The request is contained in an agency “decision package” submitted by Habib’s office to the Office of Financial Management as part of the lead-up to the budget writing process. Continue Reading ‘A Necessary Precaution.’ Washington’s Blind Lieutenant Governor Wants Security At Public Events

Read More »