Hours before reports emerged that Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., ignored complaints from female staffers about her male chief of staff, the congresswoman was stressing the importance of speaking up about sexual harassment.
Lawrence’s chief of staff, Dwayne Duron Marshall, has been accused of unwanted touching, speaking about female staffers’ appearance in the office, and asking about their dating lives by three former female aides to Lawrence who spoke to Politico. All three said they told the congresswoman about their treatment.
Lawrence spoke at the She Should Run National Conversation on Monday on a panel with three other women, including Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J. They were asked by the moderator to give advice to women on how to combat sexual harassment.
“It is extremely important, and I’m saying this personally to women, if you feel it’s creepy, if you feel that it is not acceptable — we’re seeing a lot of women come forward where they were silent for years and the behavior was allowed to be repeated,” said Lawrence, who recently introduced legislation calling for mandatory training on sexual harassment for members of Congress and Hill staffers.
“It is important for you to speak up and say, ‘You know, this is creepy, I don’t like that… Stop touching me. Don’t, um, look at me that way or... you’re in my space.’”
Lawrence told Politico she had heard no complaints from former or current staffers about harassment.
“I want to be very clear, very firm, that I had no knowledge of any allegations of sexual harassment in my office, and when I say none, I mean none,” she said.
On the Monday panel Lawrence said that she was heartened by the raised awareness of sexual harassment, but stressed the importance of women continuing to speak up if they think they have been harassed.
Asked for comment on Tuesday morning, Lawrence released a statement saying, “It has been brought to my attention that unidentified former staffers allege that they were the victims of inappropriate sexual conduct while employed with the office sometime in the past.
As in any office environment, there have been occasions when employees have brought work place concerns to my attention and those concerns were promptly addressed.
However, none of the concerns brought to my attention involved allegations of sexual harassment — behavior that I will not tolerate. Had I been made aware of any concerns about sexual harassment in my office, those concerns would have been promptly investigated and appropriate disciplinary action taken, including termination of employment of any individual engaged in sexually harassing behavior.
The congresswoman said she has requested assistance from “House and outside independent management resources” to investigate and assess the current environment of my office so that I can take appropriate corrective action as necessary.”