Zero tolerance is needed; our workplaces need to be safe for women




In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelation, it has been a painful time for all, especially for the many, many women harassed, abused and taken advantage of by a culture that has allowed and too often turned their heads to such injustices. For the women speaking out, I both applaud their courage and apologize for our society’s cultural and callous indifference to the challenges and abuse they have faced.

As a father who has raised four wonderful young women, I have always believed in the importance of gender equality, concerned about the opportunities that society would present them and the plights they would face from a less than perfect world. As a legislator, l supported many matters important to women and learned a lot about women’s issues and the inequalities they faced. I closely followed the Choose Respect campaigns and have wholeheartedly supported these efforts.

Yet nothing, absolutely nothing, has prepared me until now or made me understand the prevalence of sexual abuse and the dehumanizing behavior that women routinely face. In the wake of this scandal, I now see and understand the magnitude of this problem and how women have been taken advantage of, exploited and shamed with little if any consequence to the men taking these unwanted liberties.

Frankly, I am saddened and shocked that a country as enlightened and great as ours would tolerate and show such indifference to this cultural abhorrence.

As a father and a legislator, I had no idea of the extent or peril women regularly faced. I now understand that this issue is of epidemic proportion, that women have learned to live with. Society has too long tolerated this behavior. This is unacceptable and must change.

This isn’t just about rape and sexual harassment; rather, it is about holding ourselves to a higher standard toward a culture of respect. We have laws governing the most egregious acts such as rape and sexual harassment. We need to end not only the most egregious acts against women; but, also the insensitive and dehumanizing behavior they otherwise are sometimes forced to face as well.

Awareness is the first step to change. The many women speaking up on social media with the #MeToo campaign should be heralded for sharing their anguish and courage in speaking out.

These two simple words, #MeToo, cannot begin to describe the scars, emotional pain and torment that many of these women have faced. The names I see coming forward on Facebook are people we know – – our neighbors, relatives and friends – – and not just movie stars and Hollywood celebrities.

Hopefully, history will record this candor of courage and recognize it as a pivotal and important beginning point in a cultural shift that does not tolerate such unwanted advances and behavior that women have been routinely forced to live with. Let’s hope these dynamic women, like the suffragettes of 100 years before, will help lead change and make Alaska and America better.

As individuals and as a community, we need to come together, recognize that a woman’s body is not for the taking and show them the respect, dignity and courtesy they deserve. We must put an end to this cultural nightmare that our mothers, aunts, sisters, wives, daughters, friends and co-workers have suffered and been traumatized by.

Each of us, beginning now, needs to make a commitment to help insure that our communities, our work places and schools are safe for women.

Women need to know that we as individuals, communities and employers respect them and that we will not tolerate sexual harassment, dehumanizing and predatory behavior from anyone.

I will be sitting down with my colleagues in the legislature and explaining that we need to provide awareness and sensitivity training and that we should have a zero tolerance policy for such behavior. I hope employers across Alaska and America will follow suit. Each of us can play an important role and take responsibility to end the routine occurrences of this nightmare. Together, we can make a difference. Choosing respect is the answer.

Mike Chenault is the former House Speaker, and is a Republican representing District 29, Nikiski. He was first elected to the chamber in 2000 and has filed a letter of intent to run for governor.


  1. It would be great to have the Human Rights Commission establish employer training via DOL, that is online or held regularly in communities. Outreach trainers could be established. Our smaller companies need help in this area and it is difficult to find and pay for such training on limited budgets. Let’s really provide good information to everyone, not just women. All of us have accountability in this issue and together we can learn.

  2. Women have free will in this country. If a man tries to molest you sexually without your consent……….walk away. If said man isn’t holding a gun to your head or physically restraining you………walk away. Rape is sex by force. The rest of this noise is just women having unwanted sex for their own gain. Whether it is for fame or fortune, if you let a man touch you in an unwanted way, so that you profit from his good favors, you are no better than the man who would have sex with someone by blackmailing them.

      • Lets try and split the difference.

        I certainly hope you are not someone that would tell a young woman that she can go to a man’s hotel room and be SHOCKED! that he proposition her for sex.

        It should be unthinkable that, in a professional setting, a woman would ever need to go to a man’s hotel room. It should be generally offensive for a man to ask, but if a woman accepts, then she accepts that she is going to a man’s hotel room and sex is on the table.

        • It’s not that simple, Steven. I spent much of my State career working and travelling with female co-workers. There were long stretches of time when I was in contract negotiations or doing big hearings that I spent more time with one of my female coworkers than I did with my wife. There were periods when we lived on airplanes and in hotels for weeks at a time; working together, eating together, drinking together, and in hotel rooms together, usually working – you have to work somewhere when you’re away from the office – but sometimes purely socially. You and she just have to have the self-discipline to not let those situations get out of control. Because of the work we did all of us had seen people wreck their careers and sometimes their lives over sex in the workplace or with co-workers and all of us had seen office romances turn into sexual harassment complaints and even sexual assault allegations. We as a culture only have about fifty years of unrelated men and women working closely together; some, men and women, have adapted better than others.

  3. Chenault’ s timing of this submission is quite interesting. As a sitting legislator he cannot campaign for Governor during the special session. Having this article published in ADN and in this blog gives him a chance to do something indirectly that he would be prohibited from doing directly. And that is to get publicity and have it stated at the end of the article that he is a candidate for Governor. Regardless of his motives he has made some good points, however. And nice to know he had four daughters. That was undoubtedly a challenge.

  4. The State has lost a tremendous amount of its institutional memory in the last decade or so, but unless they’ve rescinded it all, ten years ago the Executive Branch had very robust policies on sexual harassment and discrimination and consistent enforcement when actual complaints were made to proper authority. Even if the State had no policies, discrimination law, the basis of sexual harassment law, has been pretty well settled for the better part of thirty years. Large organizations in all sectors and industries have invested enormous sums of money and time to protect themselves from having meritorious sexual harassment or discrimination complaints arise; if anything they’ve become too sensitive for it. For most, the mere allegation no matter how fanciful means you’re toast. As a lowly part-time sales floor worker with no authority over anybody, my corporate retail employer subjected me to session after session of “training” on harassment, discrimination, and celebrating diversity. The reality was that anything actionable I could have done would have been criminally actionable with almost no employer liability, but they were so paranoid that they treated me as if I were someone who could coerce a female, discriminate against a protected class in retention or promotion, or create a hostile work environment. To the extent there might be a real legal problem in the Legislative Branch, it stems from the fact that there has long been a pervasive belief over there that labor and employment laws don’t apply to them; they do! If the Legislature thinks it needs some guidance in this area, all it needs to do is call the Division of Personnel.

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