The sexist political culture of New Jersey is “turning women away.”
That was one of the more provocative statements emerging from today’s press conference by a group examining sexual harassment in New Jersey politics. It was made by Tia-Lyn Ghione, who described herself as a political operative.
Officially called the Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogyny in New Jersey Politics, the group was formed by state Sen. Loretta Weinberg after Star Ledger stories suggested harassment and even sexual assault of women working in New Jersey politics was common.
Ghione, one of today’s speakers, was recently the recipient of a text from a Hudson County politico who bragged about “emotionally abusing” a woman.
Another speaker said it’s common for women elected officials to be marginalized by their male colleagues.
The group has no legislative authority in itself, but it has spent the last year or so offering women a place to share their stories.
There is, however, proposed legislation that would establish an office within the state Election Law Enforcement Commission to investigate harassment complaints. As of now, ELEC oversees campaign finance laws.
The proposal would appropriate $2 million to create the office and to hire three employees – a director and two investigators – who “have professional expertise in the area of survivor support and trauma-informed interviewing.”
The office would review and investigate harassment complaints made by, or against, just about everything in the state connected to politics. That includes candidates, campaign staff, county committee members, vendors and the press.
Speaking generally, Weinberg said the women in the group are determined to speak out for women, who for whatever reason, can not. Or as she put it, speak out for those “behind the wall.”
She was confident the legislation would move along, optimistically noting that she saw no reason why Legislative leaders would oppose it.
At the same time, Weinberg acknowledged that a law can do only so much. What’s really necessary is a change in attitude that holds people in politics accountable.