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Lawmakers’ Sexual Harassment In The Spotlight, After Decades Of Allegations

A front page story in the newspaper Roll Call reported that staffers had accu...

Credit: Shannon Bradley

Above: A front page story in the newspaper Roll Call reported that staffers had accused then-Rep. Jim Bates (D-Calif.) of sexual harassment. The article was published on Oct. 2, 1988, a month before Bates would win re-election.

Lawmakers' Sexual Harassment In The Spotlight, After Decades Of Allegations


Shannon Bradley, executive producer, University of California Television

Laura Fink, founder, Rebelle Communications


California state legislators held hearings Tuesday into sexual abuses in the Capitol, amid the recent national focus on sexual harassment and the wave of allegations against prominent politicians, journalists and entertainers.

The hearings were held a day after Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-Pacoima, resigned over accusations he made unwanted physical advances towards women. And Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, was removed from his leadership position Monday after three women accused him of sexual harassment.

But this is not the first time women have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment by powerful lawmakers. San Diego Rep. Jim Bates was the first congressman to be reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee for sexual harassment back in 1989.

Shannon Bradley, then a staff writer at Roll Call, broke the story in 1988 after investigating the high turnover in Bates’ office. She found Bates would ask women on his staff for hugs every day so he would “have more energy,” and touched them in ways that made them feel uncomfortable. The story was published a month before the 1988 election, which Bates won. After the Ethics Committee reprimand, Bates lost his 1990 campaign.

The story led to a bill that made it easier for Capitol Hill staffers to report sexual misconduct. But Bradley said the issue quickly faded.

“I don’t think anything changed,” said Bradley, now executive producer of University of California Television. “It just kind of died.”

Laura Fink was a campaign aide to then-Rep. Bob Filner from 2004 to 2006 and one of the women who came forward when he was mayor alleging sexual harassment. Fink described an unwanted advance by Filner at a campaign fundraiser. Filner later resigned. One of the links between Filner and Bates was that Filner’s officer had high turnover too, Fink said, and he was known to be a bully. The culture has only recently started to shift, she said.

“But I think there’s a limit. I think you have to have a certain amount of power and notoriety for your story to make news, and I think there may only be a limited appetite for the number of stories,” Fink said. “(We need) a cultural shift, where we decide this isn’t ok, that you don’t get to be in a position of cultural power and influence if you perpetrate these behaviors. And I don’t think we’ve decided that.”

Bradley and Fink join KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday with more on the culture of sexual harassment among politicians.

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