Alaska lawmakers look to address sexual harassment

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) A female member of the Alaska State Legislature Ivy Spohnholz (D) said she is optimistic that a climate of pervasive sexual harassment will end in state government.

    She said there is clear commitment throughout the Capital of the need to update the sexual harassment policy.  They created a sexual harassment working group, a sub-committee of the legislative council.  They plan to have a policy in place in a few months.

    "My biggest concern is sexual harassment is really a pervasive cultural problem.  No institution has escaped.  The Alaska legislature is no different.   Our female staff have told me that there is a culture of pervasive sexual harassment that prevents them from feeling respected and they can work in a safe and professional work environment.  This has got to stop."

    She said the state should set the example, "As leaders we are responsible to exhibit the highest standard of ethical and moral behavior and it is time for us to step up to that standard."

    A closed door meeting took place Tuesday.  Spohnholz said no details of that meeting can be discussed because it was in executive session.

    "There is wide spread commitment to improving the culture and update our sexual harassment policy and doing some training.  I'm optimistic that we will see significant changes in the legislature.  The real proof is in the pudding.  We need to make sure that when sexual harassment occurs that people are held to account so that the public knows that we have really made changes and they are not just superficial."

    The harassment issue has received tremendous media attention across the county and in Alaska.  Media members said they witnessed Senator David Wilson (R) Wasilla, placed a cell phone between the legs of a female staffer at the capital in June.

    Spohnholz encouraged anyone who is the victim of sexual harassment should come forward,  "They don't really feel free to file claims and to report them using official channels.  That really needs to change.  We must let the staff know that we believe their safety and the professionalism of our work place is top of mind.  They need to feel free to file sexual harassment and other kinds of harassment claims and no there will not be reprisals."

    Spohnholtz said the current policy is clearly inadequate and is in need of an update.

    "Culture change is hard, you don't change the culture overnight.  The real work will take place over the next year or two as we try to change the standards of behavior in the legislature.  Its clear that some people don't understand what is appropriate workplace behavior and that takes time to change."

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