For the first time in more than 25 years, state lawmakers took testimony on Wednesday on the culture of sexual harassment and misconduct in state government, hearing from survivors and victims of abuse, like former state Senate aide Erica Vladimer.
"We can frame this hearing as a chance for victims to speak the truth. We can also frame it as a chance for elected officials to listen, to signal to victims they are willing to sit in discomfort with us," said Erica Vladimer, Sexual Harassment Working Group.
The hearing included the testimony of Elizabeth Crothers, a former Assembly staffer who accused a then-top aide to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver of rape. Michael Boxley was never charged, but later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor misconduct charge in a separate case. Crothers says Silver and his aides were less concerned with her accusation, than the reputation of the Legislature.
"Their concern was not in my story but containing its fallout. I was 24 years old, traumatized, not able to eat or sleep and learned that my assault didn't matter to the people who made laws for the state," Crothers said.
The hearing also focused on how to best handle harassment acccusations, such as ending the use of the standard known as severe and pervasive in determining harassment.
"The New York state human rights law has myriad barriers for people who have sexual harassment claims. For one thing, it's not considered harassment unless it's severe and pervasive," said Miriam Clark, National Employment Lawyers Association.
And replacing that standard with a more broad definition of harassment is backed by state lawmakers who want to see a bill passed this session.
"This would impact everyone. What we've seen is the standard is pretty arbitrary, way too high, and doesn't allow for victims to come forward," said Nily Rozic (D) Assembly, Queens.
Lawmakers may hold more hearings on the issue later in the year.