State Sen. Sara Gelser’s efforts in the battle against sexual harassment in the workplace have been honored by Time magazine.
Gelser, whose Senate District 8 includes Albany and Corvallis, and dozens of other women were honored as Persons of the Year by Time for “breaking the silence” on the issue. Time annually devotes a year-end issue to featuring and profiling a person, a group, an idea, or an object that "for better or for worse … has done the most to influence the events of the year."
In the Time story, the writers note that “women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don't even seem to know that boundaries exist. They've had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can't afford to lose. They've had it with the code of going along to get along. They've had it with men who use their power to take what they want from women. These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced. In some cases, criminal charges have been brought.”
Harvey Weinsten. Al Franken. Matt Lauer. Garrison Keillor. And Jeff Kruse.
Kruse, a state senator from Roseburg, has been accused of inappropriate touching by Gelser, who twice filed informal complaints before filing a formal one Nov. 15. Gelser alleges that Kruse touched her inappropriately multiple times from 2011 to 2017.
Gelser’s charges include multiple occasions of unwanted touching, including twice on the Senate floor in which other senators intervened on Gelser’s behalf. Gelser also requested seating assignments away from Kruse and instructed staffers not to meet with him or to send interns to his office.
Kruse has denied inappropriately touching her. The complaint process, which could lead to Kruse’s expulsion, is expected to conclude in the spring.
Gelser said she was frustrated that the conduct continued even after the informal complaints were filed. Gelser said that as many as 15 other women also have accused Kruse of unwanted touching.
Gelser traveled to San Francisco to be interviewed and photographed and praised the Time staff: “It was such a thoughtful, creative group of people,” she said.
At the time of the session she did not know that the story was in the running for Person of the Year. A list of potential subjects came out last weekend and Gelser made sure to check for the story Wednesday morning while she was getting her kids ready for school.
“It’s been pretty amazing,” she said. “And it is such an important conversation.”
Gelser stressed, however, that the problem is not a new one.
“The discussion is at a heightened level, but the problem has been around for decades, since Anita Hill,” said Gelser, referring to the university law professor who in 1991 accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during Thomas’ confirmation process for the United States Supreme Court.
“We need to believe women,” Gelser said, “and hold offenders accountable. The change isn’t going to come from hearing from people who’ve experienced it. The change has to come from the attitude in which nobody thinks that they have a right to put their hand on you in the first place.”
Gelser remains concerned that many women who experience harassment can’t come forward because of concerns about retaliation.
“That is where I will remain focused, doing what I can,” she said. “If I can play some small part in it that’s a great thing. It’s not about the women in the Time story. It’s about the experiences of women all across the country. We need to keep telling that bigger story.”