Oct. 7, 2004 Three senators accused by Sen. Usie Richards of conspiring sexual harassment charges against him deny the claim saying it is a "smoke screen."
Senate President David Jones on Thursday said neither he nor Sens. Ronald Russell or Luther Renee orchestrated any plan to silence Richards or smear his image.
A female legislative employee, a staff member of both Russell and Renee, had accused Richards of making sexual advances towards her. But Richards said Wednesday that the allegations were a political ploy to "influence voters" in the upcoming November election. (See "Senator Denies Sexual Harassment Charges").
"Sen. Richards claims that it was politically motivated," Jones said. "But that is just nonsense, a smoke screen."
Jones said this was not the first time that women employees of the Legislature have made complaints against Richards and his conduct towards them.
"This was the first woman to formally complain," Jones said. "And as Senate president, I had to take her complaints seriously."
Jones formed an Ethical Conduct Committee to investigate the matter.
Russell said in a release Thursday that Richards' accusations were "untrue, irresponsible, reckless and baseless."
"This attempt to slander me and challenge my integrity stoops to the lowest levels of desperation to gather sympathy votes," Russell said. "I am disappointed that Sen. Usie Richards, who has known me for a very long time, would publicize such a ridiculous statement attacking my credibility."
Russell called for Richards to take back his statements, threatening to take the matter to the courts if he didn't.
Renee also has denounced Richards claim against him, saying he did not have anything to do with the matter.
Russell, in his release, further stated that sexual harassment is a "serious charge," especially when lodged against elected officials "trusted with the public confidence."
Serious as it may be, sexual harassment is quite commonplace in the workplaces of the territory, according to Clema Lewis, co-director of the Women's Coalition of St. Croix.
"It happens very frequently in the territory, but it's not as frequently reported," Lewis said.
In her work with the Women's Coalition of St. Croix Lewis said she has counseled many women who were victims of sexual harassment.
Both public and private sector employees are faced with the pressures of sexual harassment mostly women, but, on rare occasions, men in a culture that seems to make such behavior acceptable, Lewis said.
Lewis said in speaking to employees on the subject at various companies men have always made the comment "That is sexual harassment," when given examples of the crime, meaning they recognize what it is.
"Sexual harassment is a form of sexual assault, and, usually, the victim suffers the brunt of it," Lewis said.
Lewis said men need to note that behavior that may be accepted by one woman may be offensive to another. Sexual harassment does not have to be physical to constitute an offense, Lewis added. It may be also be verbal or written as in the form of e-mails being sent to an employee either requesting or suggesting sexual favors.
Lewis would not comment on the situation with Richards, except to say, "When someone make these allegations they definitely need to be investigated."
St. Croix attorney Lee Rohn on Thursday also claimed that the incidents of sexual harassment in the territory are high. Rohn said she has served as attorney for more than 100 sexual harassment cases both in the public and private sector during the course of her profession on St. Croix.
"We have a widespread problem here," Rohn said. "When we have government and elected officials who treat sexual harassment in such a cavalier manner, people are bound to follow suit."
Rohn made reference to a case involving former Tourism Commissioner Clement "Cain" Magras, in which she served as attorney for the victim, who had accused Magras of sexual harassment.
Magras was still nominated as Tourism Commissioner by the governor, Rohn said, despite the fact that the "claims were found to be valid."
Rohn said most of the cases she's worked on have resulted in a large money settlement. However, the women are still made to suffer because most are fired or have to move from one department to another, while the man is still allowed to maintain his job.
"What I notice usually happening is that the women are treated as 'the bad guys,'" Rohn said. "We have a glass tomb; it's not even a glass ceiling."
Rohn's advice for women who are being sexually harassed is to:
-Let the harasser know that you are offended by his behavior at the first inkling of it.
-Go to a supervisor and inform him/her of the situation.
-Keep a diary of the events and get witnesses.
Rohn said it is important for women to dress appropriately to work and to avoid flirtatious behavior because this sends the wrong message to men, who may eventually use that against them as a defense.
Women being victimized in the workplace may seek support from the Family Resource Center on St. Thomas at 776-7867, The Safety Zone on St. John at 693-7233 and the Women's Coalition of St. Croix at 773-9272.
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