Following the resignation of a state senator for alleged sexual harassment, the Ohio Senate will be doing things differently. Thanks to a decision by the Senate president, Republican Larry Obhof, all Ohio state senators will receive sexual harassment training, along with their staff.
Obhof spoke highly of the forthcoming sexual harassment training. "Whether it was today or had been a month ago or a year ago, I think that we recognize that when activity is inappropriate, it needs to be dealt with in a timely and appropriate fashion," Obhof told reporters at a press conference. "I think an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Sen. Charleta B. Tavares, a Democrat and the assistant minority leader, tells Bustle that she is glad to know that she and Obhof are on the same page. "My hope is that the Democrats and Republicans can work together on this. I know that President Obhof is very serious and his caucus is certainly interested in working on this," Tavares says. "I believe that this is a very serious issue that should be addressed by all employers."
She underlined the need to protect everyone at the Ohio Statehouse, particularly young interns or fellows at various state senators' offices. Tavares also explains that she thinks that the rule needs to be broad enough not just to include legislators and staff but all who work at or do business at the statehouse, including the Ohio state patrol and other state agencies that at times work there.
Obhof can make rules for the state Senate; the state House could pass its own rule, or find a legislative solution. Tavares says she'd like whatever Republicans and Democrats agree on to encompass the entire statehouse as well as the office spaces for the Senate and House.
Ohio Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, a Democrat, is also on board. He tells Bustle in a statement that Democrats are ready to work on the issue. "Sexual harassment is a serious issue and it must be treated as such. I will be working with the Senate President to ensure that all members and staff receive appropriate training," Yuko says.
The issue of sexual harassment and assault has been discussed at workplaces across the country since Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of rape, sexual assault, and harassment behavior (he has roundly denied accusations of non-consensual sex). Online protests including the hashtag #MeToo have continued to drive the discussion.
But that is not what brought on the change in Ohio, according to Obhof. Rather, it was former state Sen. Cliff Hite's alleged behavior toward an unidentified female state worker. The Senate president said that he learned of the accusations on Oct. 11 and said that he told Hite that he had to resign or fight the accusations. "I strongly suggested that (resignation) would be a course of action worth considering," Obhof told reporters.
Sen. Hite and his wife, Diane, posted statements to Twitter explaining Hite's decision to resign from his position. Hite explained his alleged behavior toward the female state employee, and insisted "there was no inappropriate physical conduct" beyond hugs.
"After we met, I sometimes asked her for hugs and talked with her in a way that was not appropriate for a married man, father, and grandfather like myself,” Hite said in the statement. “Beyond those hugs, there was no inappropriate physical conduct. I recognized that this was inappropriate behavior. She deserves more respect than that and so does my wife."
His wife, Diane, also gave a statement. "I love my husband and he's a good man but he made a mistake here. He told me all about it, apologized to me, and I forgave him," she wrote. The couple is in counseling, and Hite has been seriously ill and is facing two surgeries, something he also notes in his resignation note.
As far as the workplace at the Ohio State Senate from here on out, the training can only help what Obhof believes is a relatively healthy workplace. The Plain Dealer reported that he said that the training is meant to clear up any confusion over what is and isn't allowed at the workplace. "I think the message should be a pretty clear one, which is that any inappropriate activity in the Senate isn't tolerated," Obhof said.
As more survivors of sexual assault and harassment step forward, workplaces across the country may face similar pressure to adopt proactive trainings — including in politics. Tavares is dedicated to working for that in Ohio with her colleagues of all political stripes. "You want to set a culture, a tone, an environment of safety for everyone that comes into the facility that is called the state capital," she says.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.