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April 26, 2018

Connecticut State Senator’s Complicity in Sexual Harassment Claims – Part 1


Photo Credit/Hartford Courant

This country is in a time of reckoning.  We are coming to terms with institutions of power being breeding grounds for varying degrees of sexual impropriety.  Based on the almost daily reports of people caught up in this cleansing, it was way overdue.

The damage includes victims who must relive the pain, but possibly get justice at long last.  The offender’s families must endure humiliation which lies solely at the feet of the selfish and unfair proclivities of the accused.  Then there are the perpetrators themselves, who will forever wear their various scarlet letters, if they are lucky.  Some are facing significant jail time and most will lose oodles of money.

Then there are the de facto accomplices, those who turn blind eyes to incidents of abuse and do nothing.  These people, be they employers, co-workers or elected officials, further rob the victim’s dignity because they were supposed to be the ones tasked to protect these people.   They should also share in the fallout.  This group has the most to gain and the least to lose.  To this group there is no pain in having to confront a sexual assault and live with the damage afterwards.  There is no feeling of mistrust and shock at learning those you loved are capable of such heinous activity.  And few, if any, of the accomplices will suffer any consequence for giving a nod and a wink to these despicable acts.

Senator Mae Flexer (D-Killingly) as former Chairperson of the Internship Committee, is one of those that has escaped explaining their roles in incidents of sexual harassment.

(Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Back in 2013, then Rep. Flexer was the chairperson of the Connecticut House Internship Committee when Rep Ernest Hewett caused a political firestorm over sexually loaded comments at a legislative hearing.  Hewett was at a legislative hearing where a woman, 17 at the time, was speaking on overcoming her fear of snakes.  After she concluded, Hewett made the remark, “If you’re bashful, I’ve got a snake sitting under my desk here.”

Hewett stated publicly that his comments were taken out of context and he meant no sexual innuendo.  Rep. Hewett was reprimanded by the Democratic leadership by having his deputy status revoked thus losing him $6,000.00 in pay.  But he refused to meet with leadership or the Democratic Caucus to further explain his deeds.

In the immediate aftermath, Rep Hewett did no one any favors, particularly those on the Internship Committee, when he stated that he wouldn’t have female interns because, “that keeps me good and that keeps everybody else good.”In the political fallout that followed, it came out that it wasn’t Hewett who made that decision but apparently the Internship Committee had special unwritten rules for Rep. Hewett.  Sen. Flexer stated to The Day,

“’We know he has a history of bad behavior, and we made a choice not to expose young women to that behavior just like no young woman or any young woman should have to be exposed,’ to it, Flexer said.  There were ‘at least a handful’ of incidents involving Hewett and females prior to her serving on the committee, she said. It was primarily verbal sexual harassment, which could include anything that creates a hostile work environment.” – The Day March 5, 2013

The obvious question is what would she characterize the incidents that weren’t primarily verbal assaults?  Were there actual physical assaults?

Were there other legislators that had restrictions on intern assignments?

Was there any discussion on the Internship Committee about implications to the Equal Employment Opportunity Act in regards to Rep Hewett’s inability to have female interns?

House Speaker at the time Brendan Sharkey had put in place sexual harassment training for legislators prior to the Hewett incident and said that he was going to establish a protocol for this type of behavior.  Since Rep Hewett’s problems seem to revolve around young women and female interns, did Ms. Flexer, as Chairperson of the Internship Committee, seek to establish a sexual harassment protocol for legislative interns?

We contacted Senator Flexer’s office on Friday (12/1/17) to obtain an interview to answer these and other questions.  Her press aid, Dan Doyle, called us back and stated Ms. Flexer was no longer a member of the Internship Committee.  We informed Mr. Doyle we were looking into incidents when the senator was chairperson of the committee.  After repeated attempts to contact the senator, neither Mr. Doyle nor Senator Flexer has responded prior to publication.  We provided a draft of this article to Senator Flexer’s office.  We will update if more information becomes available.

As Christine Stuart from CT News Junkie reported on March 6, 2013, The Day had tried to further probe Ms. Flexer on the issue,

“After the remark was published, Rep. Mae Flexer, a former chairwoman of the legislative internship committee, told the New London Day that Hewett had a history of “bad behavior” and said the internship committee sought to avoid exposing young women to his behavior. Flexer, flanked by two other female lawmakers Wednesday, declined to elaborate further on her remarks.” – CT News Junkie  March 6, 2013

She has also refused to answer these questions in detail to the Norwich Bulletin   

“Flexer said she’s heard and seen Hewett act in ‘inappropriate ways’ towards staff and interns before, but she declined to go into detail.” 

We have also reached out to Emerge America via email to ask for comment on this story.  We provided a draft of the story to them as well.

Flexer served as an intern herself.  This is a popular path for those whose goal it is to one day run for public office.  A path that Flexer took in becoming first, a Representative, then a Senator.  Getting women elected to office is also a cause she has taken up with the announcement of her position as Executive Director of Emerge Connecticut, a chapter of the national organization Emerge America.  The organization’s goal is to get women elected to office.

Photo credit/ CT Mirror

Being denied career opportunities is one of the prime reasons women don’t report sexual harassment issues.  Flexer allowed for this system of power and control to remain in place which would also place more women in dangerous situations.  She had the opportunity as Chairperson of the Internship Committee, to combat this issue so women weren’t forced to give up opportunities because of work rules that favored misogynist behavior over dreams. Senator Flexer had the power to fix a broken system.  She did nothing and by her refusal to answer questions or confront the matter, chose to turn her back on these women.

Flexer’s political ambitions are significantly less opaque than the numbers of women who suffered abuse while in contact with Hewett and possibly others.  She attends more to making a national name for herself than the needs of her immediate district.  It also appears she attends more to brushing away claims of sexual harassment than to provide leadership or protection.

If the credentials she’s trying to promote via leadership of women’s issues were more than political opportunism she could have used her position to fight for women seeking political experience.  The same girl that suffered the egregious comments from Hewett must suffer again.  She would not have been allowed to work in the unsafe environment created by Hewett and Flexer.

UPDATE

We will be publishing Part 2 of this story very soon.  We are working on additional information that had been brought to us and we are unsure of how long it will take to corroborate. Part 2 will investigate how Ms. Flexer provided financial support via taxpayer dollars to an accused sexual abuser.

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