Three state lawmakers in Maryland on Monday publicly discussed the sexual harassment they've experienced while working in the Statehouse and called for a new way of handling complaints that is independent of the Legislature's leadership.
The Baltimore Sun reported that the women spoke out during a committee hearing on possible changes to procedures on fielding allegations. Two of their male colleagues also spoke up, adding that they've witnessed groping or other sexual impropriety and that the process for complaints needs to change.
Among the women who testified was Del. Angela Angel, a Prince George's County Democrat. She told the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee that she was accosted in front of other people and that no one came to her defense.
"We have a problem, a monster of our own creation that we have both the opportunity and the duty to put down," she said.
Angel added: "The moment that I was publicly grabbed and no one said a word, I knew that I was my only protector in this House."
Angel didn't offer further details but said she's wept with other women over how to respond to inappropriate comments, uncomfortable encounters and unwanted touching.
The revelations surfaced at a time when Maryland's Legislature is grappling with the #MeToo movement as well as calls for action against sexual harassment.
Last month, the legislative women's caucus released recommendations that included the creation of an independent investigator to examine complaints. The caucus also called for increased training for lawmakers and said lobbyists should be held accountable as well.
Investigations are currently funneled through the General Assembly's elected leaders. Del. Marice Morales, a Montgomery County Democrat, said the process would force her to reveal embarrassing encounters to people crucial to her political future.
"I don't want the speaker to see me in a different way," Morales said. "Where I have to go in front of (you) and earn your respect and have you look at my bills for the merits of the bill, I don't want you to know that I've been sexually harassed because it undermines me as a person, as a legislator."
Del. Ariana Kelly, a Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the Women's Caucus, said she's endured groping and other incidents that made her job as a lawmaker more difficult.
"These situations made me feel objectified and minimized and disrespected," she said. "And when I spoke out, I feared retaliation. And sometimes I faced retaliation."