I consider the 10 years I served in the State Senate to be an honor. I met some of the finest women and men I have ever known working there. It was not a perfect place, but I never imagined it could be a hostile work environment.
And yet, we now know that at least 4 men were victims of sexual assault, abuse and harassment working in and around the Senate. We also know those men did not believe the culture of the Senate and the State House would support them disclosing their experiences. Instead, they maintained their silence. Their careers forced them to be in close proximity to their abuser. To further the causes they cared about or to advance their careers they were forced to appeal to their abuser’s, unknowing partner.
Much of the reaction to these revelations has focused on the former Senate President, his husband and how members of the Senate will react. That focus is wrong. At least four men were abused - physically and emotionally - while they were doing what elected officials ask members of the public to do every day - get involved. They cared so deeply about being involved that they bottled up the emotions and tried to carry on as if nothing happened.
The primary focus should be on the victims. Every step taken in response to these revelations should be made with two goals in mind: first, no future victims. Not just zero tolerance. Zero victims. Second, create a culture where no one can come the conclusion these four men did. Put in place protections so victims can come forward, get swift justice and be able to focus on recovery.
Changing leadership, permanently, is a necessary first step to repairing the public trust these actions broke, but it cannot be the only step. These allegations center on the actions of one man, but they exposed flaws in the institution. The Senate must address them. Establishing an independent office or board to field complaints like those levied in this case would be a start. Further ideas could come from the establishment of a bi-partisan Public Integrity Task Force, like the one Governor Patrick appointed after a series of ethics scandals a decade ago. Bringing together bright minds from all sectors with a charge to help create a zero victim, zero tolerance culture would ensure that the toll these four men carried was not in vein.
The State Senate I know is not defined by the actions of one troubled man. It is far, far better than that. To show the broader public that The Senate must put the victims, not politics, front and center of every decision moving forward.
Ben Downing Represented the westernmost district in the Massachusetts Senate from 2006 to 2016. He is currently a vice president at Nexamp, a Massachusetts-based solar energy company, and an adjunct faculty member at Tufts University.
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