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National focus on sexual harassment sparks Midstate discussions

An October New York Times story containing allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein set off a cascade of disclosures this fall.

Sen. Al Franken resigned Tuesday after a series of allegations of sexual misconduct.

Today Show host Matt Lauer was fired amid sexual misconduct charges.

The list of the accused included comedian Louis CK, news anchor Charlie Rose, actor Kevin Spacey and other figures in politics and media.

“These are very clear examples of men in power and how they used that power over men and women they were in contact with,” said Miller Hoffman, Sexual Assault/Rape Crisis Services Prevention Education coordinator at YWCA of Carlisle.

The national revelations have echoes locally as more people become aware of the scope of sexual misconduct.

Kristin Houser, chief public affairs officer at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, said the revelations have sparked an increase in inquiries at both PCAR and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, and has prompted conversations that bring to light the full spectrum of behaviors that constitute harassment.

Defining harassment

“Sexual harassment is anything of a sexual nature that is unwanted and repeated,” Hoffman said.

There’s no lower-limit threshold of behavior that must be crossed for an act to be considered harassment. It can be behaviors, stories, words or jokes that the victim expresses as being unwanted.

“These things are all under the umbrella of sexual harassment,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said most statutes require that it be communicated that such interaction is unwanted, though exceptions exist for significant acts such as “quid pro quo” sexual requests that make a sexual demand in exchange for a promotion. While men are overwhelmingly perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence, they may be victims as well.

“If we fail to talk about how anyone can be victimized, we are creating more obstacles for men to come forward. But if we pretend that men and women are equally perpetrators, then we are going to miss an opportunity to talk about one of the things that’s at the root of what we understand to be rape culture,” he said.

Harassment, assault and rape happen anywhere there is a difference in power between workers. These power differences many times play a role in whether a victim will come forward due to concerns about potential retaliation or consequences for sharing their story.

“Folks are often concerned about what impact this will have on their safety, their life, their careers, their financial well-being. And then it’s true that some folks don’t recognize what’s happened as assault,” Hoffman said.

That lack of recognition comes sometimes because the perpetrator is someone the victim knew and trusted, and they don’t realize what happened beyond the feelings of trauma, discomfort, fear and safety.

“We tend to think of perpetrators as these nasty-looking, sociopathic people. That is the worst of the worst, but a lot of these people that perpetrate sexual violence present in ways that people like these people,” said Dana Hippensteel, Sexual Assault/Rape Crisis Services Prevention Education coordinator at YWCA of Carlisle.


With accusations of sexual misconduct, there are often counter-accusations of false reporting, but that is not a likely scenario based on the statistics.

False reporting for all felonies ranges from 2 to 10 percent of the crimes reported, and that holds for rape as well, Hippensteel said.

“It’s not like there’s this crazy amount of false reports coming, and that people are just falsely accusing people. But, for some reason, they are crimes that we, as a culture, do question,” Hippensteel said.

Up to 70 percent of survivors do not report harassment or assault at all, Hoffman said.

“If someone does not report to law enforcement or doesn’t want to move through any type of investigation, it doesn’t mean that something didn’t happen. It means that they might not want to do that part of it,” Hippensteel said, adding that some may begin the process only to stop later when it becomes overwhelming.

Of the remaining cases, some are not believed and are dismissed, Hoffman said. Of the cases that do move forward through the criminal justice system, some will not present a strong enough case for the district attorney to prosecute.

“That, again, does not mean that something didn’t happen. It means that they’re just not able to prove it on a criminal level or they don’t want to put a victim through something like that and then it not come out that it’s guilty,” Hippensteel said.

Those that go to trial carry a high burden of proof, and some portion of those cases result in not guilty verdicts. Hoffman again said that such a verdict doesn’t mean the incident didn’t happen or that it is a false report.

Victims also may decline to come forward due to the negative attention these cases garner. They may decide to cut their losses and change careers rather than pursue a case for which there may be no consequences.

“When folks are talking about the horrible loss of productivity from these men who are perceived to be under attack, isn’t it worthwhile to think of what we have lost? What might these women, what might these men have produced?” Hoffman said.

Hoffman also noted some defend those accused of harassment or sexual assault by saying the accused is innocent until proven guilty, which is the standard for criminal charges and not necessarily for workplace findings.

“In the case of a criminal charge, there would be a certain burden of proof that is usually beyond a reasonable doubt, and you go into a court of law and have to establish that something happened that meets that burden of evidence,” he said.

None of the high-profile cases that made headlines through the fall have yet to become criminal cases. They are employment cases in which companies look to their policies to determine appropriate behavior and act accordingly should the behavior not meet the criteria set in those policies. That can result in sanctions that may look similar across the board despite the differences in the behavior.

“If you think in those terms, it becomes clearer to understand that Louis C.K. would have sanctions for his behavior, and Harvey Weinstein would have sanctions for his behavior and that Al Franken would have consequences for his behavior. Those consequences would be very similar because at this time what’s happening are employment or workplace consequences,” Hoffman said.

Why now?

Social media may play a factor in the cascade of revelations. The technology seems less risky, which empowers those wanting to share their stories or to offer support. In a manner similar to group therapy, social media chips away at the sense of isolation among survivors.

“Social media has enabled that to happen to a much broader level,” Houser said.

There’s no way to prove it, but Hoffman said the timing of these harassment allegations and the election suggest a relationship.

“I do believe that what’s happening now could very well be a direct response to the election and the ‘Access Hollywood’ video that came out. I think it’s very possible that may have galvanized some attention, some awareness, some support for victims,” he said.

That said, Hoffman believes there will be an “expiration date” on these disclosures, but more are likely to come before that date is reached.

“I’m not sure we’ve seen much more than the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

Advocates stress prevention, believing victims

National headlines concerning accusations of sexual harassment against high-profile figures have prompted many to tell their own stories, as evidenced in the #MeToo movement on social media.

Local advocates say the most important thing someone can do if a victim shares their story is to listen and to let them chart their course through the aftermath.

Victims don’t trust that people will respond to them appropriately when they make a disclosure, said Kristin Houser, chief public affairs officer at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. They think they will not be believed or will be accused of lying. They may also see a history of incidents not being addressed or fear retaliation that may include loss of employment, demotion or even further harm from the perpetrator.

“All of those things boil down to they don’t trust people to respond appropriately,” she said.

“The most important thing, without a question, is that we must as a culture believe survivors,” said Dana Hippensteel, Sexual Assault/Rape Crisis Services Prevention Education coordinator at YWCA of Carlisle.

Responding in an empathetic way can be as simple as saying, “I’m sorry this happened to you” or “I believe you,” and asking what the person needs at that point, Hippensteel said.

It’s vital for the victim to think about the direction they want to take, Hippensteel said. Telling someone who has already had power and control taken away from them what they need to do only takes the control away from them a second time.

“It’s important for a survivor to have the power and control to make decisions around that,” she said.

Someone who has been harassed should first seek support from someone they trust, Houser said. That could be a family member, a co-worker or even a crisis hotline. If they are comfortable, the victim may even confront the person who is doing it.

Houser also said it is important to keep copies of emails, photos and notes detailing where the harassment occurred, when it happened and any other potential witnesses. She also suggested keeping copies of performance reviews at home.

Victims should also check company policies to ensure that it is being followed, and should know their rights, understanding that it is illegal to punish someone for filing a complaint. If the victim feels safe, the incident should be reported to a supervisor along with an indication of what they want the next step to be.

Through all of it, Houser said it is important for victims to consider their own sense of safety.

“Don’t feel like you have to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable,” she said.

The confidential, 24-hour hotline operated by the YWCA can be used by someone recently assaulted who is in crisis. The hotline volunteer can discuss what might be immediately important to the victim such as whether they should go to the hospital, how to pursue legal options or how to tell their family and friends about the experience. The hotline volunteer talks about the options available, and the consequences of each of those options.

Hippensteel said people who experienced sexual violence in the past may also use the hotline.

“We frequently get phone calls on the hotline from folks that were abused as children or had experienced sexual violence at a younger age and they are at a point in their life where they want to talk to somebody about it or maybe they want to pursue something legally,” she said.

The hotline also receives calls from family members, parents, partners and significant others of those who have been assaulted. These calls often ask the counselor how they can be supportive to the victim.

The YWCA also offers in-person counseling and group counseling.

“We always want to remind people that it’s never too late to get help,” Houser said. “It doesn’t matter how long ago it happened. If you are having stress about it, you can get help now.”


Prevention has historically focused on victim behaviors such as watching their drinks when out or not running alone and other advice that focuses on risk reduction.

“To act as though that is prevention is shameful, and we really need to be moving this onto putting responsibility for reduction onto rapists,” said Miller Hoffman, Sexual Assault/Rape Crisis Services Prevention Education coordinator at YWCA of Carlisle.

Now, prevention programs start as early as second grade when children are taught in age-appropriate ways that they make choices about their bodies. Hippensteel said they are taught that if they receive a touch that makes them uncomfortable, it isn’t OK and there are steps they can take.

Shifts in the older grades has moved from presentation-style programming to multisession group work that teach dynamics around power, control and violence as well as breaking down gender norms and stereotypes, Hippensteel said. The students are taught about healthy relationships, equality within those relationships and consent, all at age-appropriate levels.

The YWCA also works with three local colleges on programs to create norms and beliefs within the college community that promote equality and respect while also discussing consent and the ways in which bystanders can intervene when needed.

The silver lining to these seemingly daily revelations is that it becomes easier to have conversations about what is being done to make things right. That could mean reviewing policies at work just as easily as it could mean having conversations with children about what behaviors are expected from them, Houser said.

“It’s an opportunity to have conversations to stress the importance of looking out for each other’s well being,” she said.

Allowing lower-level behaviors to go unchallenged gives potential perpetrators justification to push the envelope. In the workplace, everyone has to be clear on behavioral expectations and work as a team to enforce those expectations. Supervisors must have the authority to address issues quickly and appropriately.

“You need to nip things in the bud by addressing comments, jokes and inappropriate humor,” Houser said.

Pa. governor's race presents a wide field

Pennsylvania already has five choices for governor going into 2018 in a race that could potentially put the national spotlight on the Keystone State.

The primary battle between four Republican hopefuls is considered by some to be a bellwether for the direction of the GOP on the national level, with candidates having to reconcile the party’s Trump-era base with the prospects of defeating incumbent Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in a general election.

“We’re at the strangest point we’ve been in modern political history, and Pennsylvania is not immune to that,” said Terry Madonna, a pollster and political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College.

In an interview with The Sentinel last week, state House Speaker Mike Turzai, the latest Republican to enter the race, said he planned to run on his leadership record, first as House majority leader under Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, and currently as speaker under Wolf.

“I’m a known commodity,” Turzai said. “I have always run on a platform to change the way things are done in Harrisburg, and the House has lived by example for the past eight years that I’ve been in the leadership.”

Democrats would naturally disagree, with Wolf and Turzai having frequently traded blows over budget stalemates. But potentially more importantly, Turzai will need to overcome his primary rivals, at least two of whom have strongly adopted the Trump-era aesthetic.

State Sen. Scott Wagner of York County has already begun running a bevy of advertisements with a “take out the trash in Harrisburg” message that mirrors Trump’s “drain the swamp” mantra, except featuring Wagner’s waste disposal business.

In September, Wagner also appeared at an ultra-conservative event in St. Louis where he got the nod from a Steve Bannon, a former adviser to President Donald Trump. But Wagner has been cautious to not make his race entirely about riding the winds of the far right.

Given their similar views on taxes and deregulation, “it is not surprising that those who support the president are excited about Scott’s candidacy,” said Wagner spokesman Andrew Romeo. “That being said, this race isn’t about Donald Trump, Steve Bannon or any other national figure, it’s about the people of Pennsylvania.”

Similarly, Pittsburgh businessman Paul Mango has also courted the hard-right base, particularly on social issues, and has emphasized his military experience. Mango’s website features endorsements from Trump lobbyist David Urban and Trump ally Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

“The real question for Republicans is whether the Trump base has stayed motivated and will turn out,” Madonna said. “And if that is your strategy, it’s more likely to win a primary than it is a general because of Trump’s slumping job approval outside the hard base.”

To this end, the GOP also has a fourth option in 2018 — Laura Ellsworth, a high-profile Pittsburgh attorney who told the Associated Press in October that she wrote in John Kasich in the 2016 election.

Ellsworth and Mango also have the benefit of being political novices, and Wagner only has four years in Harrisburg, as opposed to Turzai’s 16.

“The problem you have is that, with the way the Republican base is right now, you have to run as an outsider,” Madonna said. “That leaves Turzai with the hardest needle to thread.”

But Turzai sees this as a potential asset, not an obstacle: He’s the one with the background to challenge Wolf on hard policy points. For instance, Wolf’s frequent campaign point that Republicans cut education funding by $1 billion when they had complete control under GOP Gov. Tom Corbett, Wolf’s predecessor.

“Ed Rendell propped up education and social services with federal stimulus dollars, but those dollars started to taper off,” Turzai retorted. “We never cut state funding to education, and were able to pass on-time budgets even as we lost federal funding. What’ the difference in the equation now? Wolf.”

Approval rating

But Wolf’s approval ratings, while still under 50 percent in most polls versus a generic alternative candidate, have been on the upswing.

Madonna credited this to Wolf having fared better politically in the last round of budget battles with the GOP.

“The best position for Wolf is that he has not taken as much of a hit on the budget,” Madonna said. “The Republicans passed a spending plan and then took three months fighting amongst themselves on how to pay for it. Wolf came out looking much better.”

Further, Madonna said, the state GOP’s budget has relied heavily on borrowing from internal funds and from future revenue from the state’ tobacco settlement and wine privatization—as opposed to Wolf’s balanced budget proposal. This, coupled with Republicans’ embrace at the national level of a $1.5 trillion deficit spending plan to make way for corporate tax cuts, threatens to abdicate the GOP’s mantle of fiscal conservatism for many Pennsylvania voters.

But even if they aren’t in lockstep with the national GOP on every issue, the one item that state and local Republicans tend to always embrace is tax policy.

In his interview, Turzai expressed confidence that the Trump tax cuts would pan out as the president promised.

“I think most Pennsylvanians, if not all Pennsylvanians, will benefit,” Turzai said. “I do think the private sector is going to flourish as a result.”

Turzai asserted that no increases to Pennsylvania’s tax structure would be necessary in the coming years, assuming that revenue from the current structure grew 3 to 4 percent per year due in part to the Trump cuts.

Republicans will also likely press hard on Wolf’s previous budget proposals that have included income and sales tax hikes, Madonna predicted. But Wolf can also press back that such increases were due to Republicans’ opposition to his Marcellus Shale tax proposal, as well has his pitch for corporate tax reform that would’ve limited corporations’ net operating loss deduction. Roughly 70 percent of PA C-registered corporations report zero tax liability in a given year, but Republicans and Democrats have disagreed on how to rectify loopholes.

“Obviously they’re going to call Wolf out on his proposals for income and sales tax hikes, but he’ll stick with the shale tax, which is much more popular,” Madonna said.

In an email, Pennsylvania Democratic campaign spokesperson Beth Melena also cited another strong Wolf campaign point: The governor “expanded health insurance to over 720,000 Pennsylvanians and lowered the commonwealth’s uninsured rate to the lowest it has ever been,” Melena said.

This statistic comes from offering federally subsidized private health insurance, as well as the Medicaid expansion, that was offered to the states under former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Wolf’s support for ACA initiatives is likely a political winner, given that the GOP’s efforts at the federal level to repeal the ACA over the past year have polled very poorly.

That leaves state-level reform, particularly on environmental and building regulation, as potentially winning issues for the GOP that don’t get bogged down in adverse national politics.

Turzai pointed to the reductions of state executives’ per-diem allowances, and the introduction of employee cost-sharing on health insurance, as sensible measures he has implemented during his House leadership to reduce the state’s overhead.

He also said he plans to press hard on regulatory reform, with plans to introduce a bill that would set hard timelines for state agencies to respond to applications.

“We’ve contemplated a ‘deemed-as approved’ if you don’t at least provide a response,” Turzai said. “Let folks know so they can adjust. ... We need predictability and stability in our regulatory process in order to grow the state’s economy. There are fine people in those [regulatory] departments but it depends on what kind of message you’re getting from the top.”

4-way gubernatorial primary tests GOP's endorsement mettle in Pa.

HARRISBURG — For the four Republicans who hope to challenge Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s re-election bid next year, the first playoff game before the May 15 primary election will be the state party’s endorsement.

That endorsement vote, scheduled for Feb. 10, could determine who stays in the primary race and who gets to brag that they won the endorsement while drawing upon the financial benefits of the party’s backing.

Should the party be unable or unwilling to endorse, it would be the first time in 40 years.

A looming four-way contest puts the 347 state Republican Party committee members in the sticky position of choosing between two people — York County state Sen. Scott Wagner and state House Speaker Mike Turzai, of suburban Pittsburgh — who have played outsized roles in helping elect Republican lawmakers.

“It’s a squeamish situation for some of them,” said Alan Novak, the Republican Party’s chairman from 1996 through 2004.

All four candidates, including lawyer Laura Ellsworth and former health care systems consultant Paul Mango, both of suburban Pittsburgh, have told party officials they will run in the primary, with or without the party’s endorsement.

Wagner is widely viewed as the favorite after announcing his candidacy a year ago, far before the others. The day after Turzai announced his candidacy in November, Wagner’s campaign released a list of 64 state committee members who, it said, had endorsed him.

No other candidate has released a list of state committee supporters, but the persuasion campaign is in full swing: letter writing, personal phone calls and meet-and-greets.

“It’s very difficult in that all these people are getting in it, and they all think they are the most likely candidate to win it, and they all think they have enough votes at state committee to win,” said Michael Meehan, Philadelphia’s Republican Party chairman. “Unfortunately, all of them can’t win.”

No GOP-endorsed candidate has lost Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial primary in 40 years.

Still, an endorsement of Wagner would represent a break with a tradition of backing establishment-style candidates.

Wagner was endorsed by Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former strategist who, as chairman of the right-wing Breitbart News, backed Roy Moore’s failed candidacy in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race that cost Republicans a seat in the chamber.

The founder of a trash-hauling company in south-central Pennsylvania, Wagner touts his business credentials and is rated by the American Conservative Union as among the Senate’s five most conservative senators. His penchant for speaking off-the-cuff makes him a magnet for controversy, and he has clashed openly with moderate members of his caucus.

He took office in 2014 by winning a write-in bid over the GOP’s hand-picked candidate, a veteran state lawmaker, in an expensive and bruising primary in which top Republican senators spent heavily to try to defeat him. Before that, he donated heavily to conservative candidates and causes, even if it meant challenging sitting Republican public officials.

Starting Jan. 6, the state party’s regional caucuses will begin meeting with the candidates and holding straw votes ahead of a formal state committee vote. Regional caucus meetings will wrap up Feb. 3, a week before committee members meet in Hershey to decide party endorsements.

“A lot of people in the counties really haven’t made a decision yet,” said Dick Stewart, co-chair of the Central Caucus. “I think they really want to hear the candidates make a presentation.”

In election seasons since 1978, it has been obvious as to who would win the party’s gubernatorial endorsement, said Blake Marles, who chairs the four-county northeast central caucus. The promise of an endorsement is typically used as a shield to avoid potentially divisive and expensive primary contests, and the GOP field is usually clear well before the party’s endorsement meeting.

Not this year.

The prospect of losing the endorsement isn’t scaring candidates away from running without it, and the Republican Party’s cash may be stretched to help save congressional and legislative majorities in a difficult midterm election.

“So the question is then,” said Charles Gerow, a committee member from Cumberland County, “what’s the endorsement’s true value?”