At the Illinois State Capitol on Wednesday, lawmakers took part in the first ever sexual harassment training class.
The training, which is voluntary, went into specific details on what the difference is between welcome and unwelcome contact, and comes on the heels of sexual harassment allegations that have fired controversies nationwide.
“We’re saying to those who might perpetrate that you need to figure out what your behavior is, and to not do it,” State Rep. Liteca Wallace said.
The allegations in Springfield have even prompted the hiring of a new Legislative Inspector General, who will work to clear a backlog of 27 complaints of misconduct that have not been addressed since the position went vacant in 2013.
Lawmakers met for the sessions behind closed doors, with Democrats meeting in the first wave and Republicans following them into the sessions.
The training was led by the Illinois Department of Human Rights. A copy of the handout given to lawmakers makes clear what behavior is acceptable and unacceptable, and features a quiz that lawmakers had to take after the class was over.
“It opened up an opportunity for us to have conversations about race, discrimination, and sexual harassment,” State Rep. Mary Flowers said. “Things we haven’t really talked about.”
The hiring of a new inspector general hasn’t quelled the controversy over the handling of complaints, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeanne Ives blasted House Speaker Mike Madigan for his office’s handling of the situation.
“People did know, and people obviously filed complaints,” Ives said. “John Cullterton knew. Mike Madigan knew. And they failed to do anything for three years.”
Ives’ criticism comes on the heels of allegations against State Senator Ira Silverstein, who was forced to resign a senior leadership post within the Democratic party.
Silverstein has not resigned from his Senate seat, and when asked about whether or not he should be forced to step down, Speaker Madigan said that the decision ultimately lies with the senator.
“Senator Silverstein should decide what he wants to do,” he said.
In addition to the training, a new task force will recommend where lawmakers go from here in terms of their responses to complaints of harassment. The task force also hopes to set up a hotline for those worried that allegations will adversely affect their careers.