ALBANY, N.Y. — Adding a warning to false accusers in the state Senate’s newly revised anti-sexual harassment policy is an example of “the type of intimidation” that has kept harassment victims from coming forward, according to the only female leader of a legislative conference in Albany.
Andrea Stewart-Cousins, leader of the Republican-controlled chamber’s Democratic conference, responded to Monday’s distribution of the new policy to senators and staff, pointing out that she wasn’t included in discussions about the revisions despite her leadership position in the Legislature.
She took particular issue with a new sentence included in the four-page document under the heading investigation procedures: “Reporting a false complaint is a serious act.”
“To emphasis the punishment for filing a false report while not emphasizing the seriousness of sexual harassment is exactly the type of intimidation that has silenced so many through the years and encourages perpetrators to attack accusers,” said Stewart-Cousins, who represents part of Westchester County.
The revision, first reported Tuesday by The New York Times, updates a 2007 policy.
The distribution of the new policy comes amid sexual harassment allegations a former Senate staffer leveled against Sen. Jeff Klein, of the Bronx, the leader of the chamber’s breakaway Democratic faction.
Klein, head of the Independent Democratic Conference, was accused last month by Erica Vladimer of forcibly kissing her outside an Albany bar in 2015. Klein has denied the allegation, which is being investigated by the state’s ethics panel.
Klein and seven other IDC members vote with Republicans, giving the GOP the majority in the chamber.
Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan’s office says he ordered a review of the chamber’s sexual harassment policy months ago, with input sought by some of the chamber’s female Republican lawmakers. Adding the sentence containing the warning against false accusers doesn’t alter the intent of the provision outlining the disciplinary actions that could be taken against staffers who make false accusations, a Flanagan spokeswoman said.
“It is and always has been wrong to make a false complaint,” Maureen Wren said.
Stewart-Cousins said she was “disappointed” she wasn’t included in fashioning the policy, which she claimed was “proof” Senate leaders aren’t serious about combating sexual harassment.
Vladimer, who now works for New York City, sought out Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, for advice before going public with her allegations. Krueger, a longtime supporter of tougher anti-sexual harassment measures, said she has concerns over the new policy and how it was created.
“Given the secretive process through which this policy was amended, I can only assume that the valuable input necessary to ensure effective investigations and protect victims was not sought from critical stakeholders,” she said in statement released Wednesday.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made combating sexual harassment in the workplace a legislative priority this year as the issue continues to reverberate across the country in the entertainment industry, the media and politics.