Editorial: Too Many No-Shows at N.H. Statehouse Harassment Seminar

  • The House convenes at the State House in Concord on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Credit New Hampshire House Speaker Gene Chandler, a Republican from Bartlett, for finding the time to attend Wednesday morning’s sexual harassment prevention training session for state lawmakers in the House chamber — something close to 90 percent of them failed to do.

“Depending on how you look at it,” Chandler told staff writer Rob Wolfe, “you could say it percentage-wise was poor attendance.”

The way we look at it, when only about 50 of New Hampshire’s 424 state legislators — 400 House members and 24 senators — show up to learn how they can be part of the solution to this pernicious problem, it’s more than poor attendance. It’s tone deaf on the part of those who could have attended but failed to. It’s a betrayal of their colleagues, and it’s a missed opportunity to stand in solidarity with the hundreds of courageous women and girls across the country who have finally found their voices and confronted their abusers. And it’s evidence, as if more were needed, that the Legislature has a lot more work to do on this issue.

In fairness to those hundreds of lawmakers who did not attend the hourlong training seminar, it was optional — as befits the Live Free or Die state, we suppose. Other hurdles to attendance included a starting time of 8:30 a.m., an hour before most legislators usually get to the Statehouse; a full legislative calendar that day; and too-short notice (House members learned of the session in an email the Friday before; senators received their invitation only the day before).

Also, some lawmakers indicated that they have already received similar training. State Rep. Brian Sullivan, D-Grantham, was not at the session but told Wolfe he had led sexual harassment training while working for the New Hampshire chapter of the National Education Association. And New Hampshire Public Radio reported that Rep. Brian Stone, R-Northwood, tweeted, “I don’t need to be told by someone that sexual harassment or assault is wrong. … I was in the Army for (eight) years. I had these classes every month.” Military service is honorable and deserving of our respect and thanks, but it is not proof that the sexual harassment training it includes is effective. Indeed, a 2014 Rand Corp. survey of 560,000 U.S. service members found that nearly 5 percent of female service members had been sexually assaulted in the previous year and 22 percent had experienced sexual harassment. The majority of those assaults — 85 percent — were perpetrated by other military personnel, the survey found.

Chandler, the House speaker, said the training sessions on sexual and other types of harassment and discrimination are part of an “ongoing effort,” and legislators will have more chances to educate themselves about sexual misconduct.

Evidence that such training remains necessary in Concord can be found in the testimony of female lobbyists and legislators, who say they have resorted to a “buddy system” to deal with the sexually inappropriate behavior they have experienced in the Statehouse. And, as NHPR’s Casey McDermott reported, it can be found in a framed poem hanging on a wall right outside the room where the training session was held. Titled “The Great Men On the Wall,” it references “the lovely lady legislators / In their mini-skirts and slacks. Gad, what forms!”

Gad, indeed.