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Dozens of Texas legislators, staffers describe ‘unchecked’ sexual harassment at Capitol

'Who would you go to? There’s no HR department.'


Samantha Grasso


Published Nov 14, 2017   Updated May 22, 2021, 11:13 am CDT

More than two dozen present and former Texas lawmakers and female staffers have described a pervasive, unchecked atmosphere of sexual harassment at Texas Capitol. However, no formal complaints of harassment have been filed in either the Texas House or Senate since 2011, and the investigation policies, or lack there of, may be to blame.

According to the Texas Tribune, most of the women interviewed for a new report on sexual harassment in the Texas Capitol have described how men—some of which are lawmakers—have engaged in a range of harassing behaviors, from making degrading comments and gestures to groping women and making unwanted sexual advances. A further look revealed that House and Senate policies, both from 1995, are outdated. They reference a state agency that has been dissolved and give Capitol officials little incentive to enforce them.

Capitol officials’ also appear ill-prepared to receive harassment complaints, subsequently dissuading staffers from reporting out of fear that their comments won’t be taken seriously. The House policy currently directs employees to Republican state Rep. Charlie Geren, the chair of the House Administration Committee. Complaints through the Senate, meanwhile, are directed to Texas Senate Secretary Patsy Spaw.

Geren “refused to answer questions from the Tribune about how his committee would handle a sexual harassment complaint because, he said, the committee had not received any,” the paper reported. Spaw, meanwhile, said complaints would be taken “really seriously,” but that she hadn’t had to deal with any.

In taking their sexual harassment stories into their own hands, female staffers have instead previously created a spreadsheet called the “Burn Book of Bad Men,” according to a report from the Daily Beast published last week. The list includes 38 men, spanning campaign workers, staffers, and lawmakers, named by an unknown number of anonymous women.

Allegations on the list run from pay discrimination to sexual assault and stretch back as far as 20 years. More than one man on the list has been involved in a Democratic political campaign. Other women whose experiences of sexual harassment and assault with lawmakers were not included on the “bad men” list spoke to the Daily Beast about the encounters.

On Tuesday, in response to the Tribune‘s report, state representative Linda Koop called upon Gov. Greg Abbott for stronger leadership regarding sexual harassment reporting policies.

“The women who do this work have had no recourse,” Taylor Holden, who said she worked in Texas politics for nearly five years, told the Daily Beast. “Even if you did name any of this, who would you go to? There’s no HR department. The people in leadership positions are men, and they’re the ones doing these things.”

Spaw echoed this sentiment to the Tribune.

“Well, you know we can’t fire them,” Spaw said of officials accused of sexual harassment. “The people get to fire them.”

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*First Published: Nov 14, 2017, 10:31 am CST