Sen. Silverstein Resigns From Chair Amid Sexual Harassment Claims - NBC Chicago
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Sen. Silverstein Resigns From Chair Amid Sexual Harassment Claims

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    NEWSLETTERS

    An Illinois lawmaker came under fire Tuesday when a victim advocate stepped forward and accused him of sexual harassment during a task force investigation of unwanted sexual advances in Springfield. NBC 5's Christian Farr reports.

    (Published Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017)

    Illinois Sen. Ira Silverstein resigned from the Senate Democratic leadership team Wednesday, the Senate president said, amid allegations of sexual harassment against the now former senator.

    Senate President John Cullerton also announced that a professionally led sexual harassment awareness training seminar for senators will be scheduled for next week.

    “These corrective actions are a first step in changing an unacceptable culture that has existed for too long," he said.

    A witness testifying in a sexual harassment hearing in Chicago Tuesday accused Silverstein, majority caucus chair, of harassing her.

    Silverstein resigned from the Majority Caucus Chair post effective immediately, Cullerton said in a news release.

    Denise Rotheimer, who has authored several bills connected to victims of crime, said Silverstein used "power" and "mind games" against her and made comments about her appearance.

    "What I dealt with Silverstein, I ended up six weeks in a crisis," she testified in the hearing. "I lost 20 pounds, my hair fell out. I was so scared that I would have to admit myself into a hospital because I went down to 109 pounds. I had no control in the situation. He had so much power over me and the mind games he played, the tactics he played and he knew this is my heart, what he was able to do and invade my privacy, my space, the offenses that I received."

    The accusations came during a House Personnel and Pensions Committee hearing where a group of women discussed sexual harassment they experienced in their careers in Illinois politics. Earlier in the hearing House Speaker Michael Madigan proposed an amendment to sexual harassment policies and training.

    "I apologize if I made Denise Rotheimer uncomfortable," Silverstein told NBC 5. "I will await the commission's results."

    Illinois became the latest to join the chorus of statehouses nationwide alleging sexual harassment is pervasive in the halls of political power. Signatures piled up last week on an open letter describing harassment and intimidation for women trying to negotiate legislation and work on campaigns.

    "Every industry has its own version of the casting couch," read the letter circulating in Illinois, which by last Tuesday had more than 130 signatures. "Ask any woman who has lobbied the halls of the Capitol, staffed Council Chambers, or slogged through brutal hours on the campaign trail. Misogyny is alive and well in this industry."

    Rotheimer authored Jasmine's Law after her daughter was raped at age 11. She had been pursuing a bill to provide legal representation to crime victims, which Silverstein became a sponsor of.

    "I have 400 pages of Facebook messages from the time Silverstein started this invasion of my space, and I submitted it as evidence," Rotheimer said. "He would Facebook me at midnight, call me at midnight. I mean you have no idea the torment -- I went to my state's attorney in April when I had that crisis asking him to take my place on the bill because I couldn't take it anymore."

    Rotheimer claims she filed a complaint to the Senate a year ago but "there was no real response."

    Illinois political fundraiser Katelynd Duncan, who helped craft the Illinois letter — signed "The Women Who Make Illinois Run" and accompanied by a private Facebook group — said she was fired from a political campaign in her 20s for reporting inappropriate behavior.

    "Very early on in my career, I was taught if I speak up, there'll be negative repercussions," she said. "I had to modify my behaviors to continue doing my job."

    State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, an Illinois Democrat, filed a resolution last week "to change the culture that breeds such behavior." Another proposal was in the works to require legislators, lobbyists and staff to undergo sexual harassment training. Top leaders said they also would require policies for lobbyists.

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