Rep. Krueger-Braneky represents the 161st legislative district in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. SiX spoke to her about her work to combat sexual harassment.
- Why is addressing sexual harassment and assault an important issue to you?
As more reports of sexual harassment have come to light, it’s become clear that our current system does not support survivors. As an elected official, I’ve shared my own #MeToo story. Afterwards, women who work in our state Capitol approached me to share stories of inappropriate behavior by legislators and their experience of a system which silences them on the issue. We need to take action now to ensure a fair and transparent system for handling complaints—independent of politics. From fast food workers to the State House, all employees should feel safe at work.
- How would the laws proposed this year combat sexual harassment?
Pennsylvania HB 1965, or what is better known as the #MeToo State House Act, is a piece of legislation that, among other things, protects staff and interns, puts in place reform procedures for investigation, resolution of complaints, improves training and transparency of sexual harassment prevention and response training in employment. My bill is part of a broader package of bills introduced by women in the PA House and Senate to tackle broader issues around sexual harassment and assault.
- How has the #MeToo movement impacted your work on this issue?
Last December, following horrific revelations about high-profile figures that launched the newest phase of the #MeToo movement, the House Democratic and Republican caucuses underwent sexual harassment training for the first time. A human resources professional walked us through slides showing examples of inappropriate and unprofessional conduct and behavior, as well as the criteria for a hostile work environment. I realized I had been subjected to each one of the hostile workplace behaviors—from inappropriate touching to sexual language to comments about my appearance—from colleagues on both sides of the aisle. And what I’ve heard from female staff and lobbyists in the Capitol is much worse than what I have experienced. We must shine a light on what’s happening and change the current culture that punishes survivors and forces them to live in shame and secrecy.
- What else can the state do to combat sexual harassment and sexual assault?
I’m grateful to the members of the Pittsburgh City Council and the Philadelphia City Council for supporting HB 1965 and understanding the need to hold the powerful accountable and create a better environment for everyone working at the state Capitol. Their support, while appreciated, is not enough. We need a vote on HB 1965—and the broader package of related bills—in the State House.
- What other issues are you working on? What are you most passionate about?
My top three priorities in office are ensuring that public schools have adequate funding to provide a thorough and efficient education to all children, protecting our environment, and un-rigging the economy so that locally owned businesses and working families can get ahead.
- Is there anything else you would like readers to know?
Sexual harassment in the workplace has garnered much attention in recent months because the victims have been women privileged with the ability—financial or otherwise—to tell their stories. It’s important that we not forget that women, disproportionately women of color, make up 60 percent of minimum-wage employees. This means that many women lack the economic power to reject misconduct in the workplace. Ending sexual harassment in the workplace is an issue of economic freedom—regardless of a person’s gender identity, they ought to be respected and feel safe at work.