In the midst of the #MeToo movement, it’s time to recognize the pioneering role of the Maine Women’s Lobby in the fight against sexual harassment. The Lobby, a nonpartisan membership organization celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, was the driving force behind Maine’s strong workplace sexual harassment training statute adopted in 1991.

Maine’s law went into effect the same week as the hearings on the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court, with Anita Hill reporting a sexual harassment experience shared by millions of working women. The Maine Women’s Lobby’s advocacy for the law placed Maine squarely in the vanguard of states recognizing the consequences of unchecked harassment in the workplace.

The Maine Legislature is now considering L.D. 1842, a bill that would require stricter anti-harassment training for lawmakers and their staffs and, for the first time, require the same training for lobbyists.

Aside from the often long-lasting personal consequences to the victims, sexual harassment in the workplace has an enormous economic impact.

The Maine Center for Economic Policy estimates that sexual harassment in state government costs the state $3.4 million a year as a result of job turnover, decreased productivity and paid sick leave. Nationally, up to 85 percent of women report that they have been sexually harassed at work, according to a 2016 report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Women in various industries have quit their jobs, scaled back their ambitions or even left their chosen fields. Overall, sociologist Heather McLaughlin has found, 80 percent of women who experienced severe sexual harassment left their jobs within two years.

These economic injustices must be addressed if Maine is to become a healthier and safer place for women and girls. The Maine Women’s Lobby will continue to address not only sexual harassment, but also equal pay, paid family leave and reproductive rights in the coming decades.

Betsy Mahoney

board member, Maine Women’s Lobby

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