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Sexual Harassment In State Capitols: Washington State


Stories from women who have shared candid, personal, often alarming details about sexual harassment and abuse have begun to gather strength and to shame celebrities, news organizations - including this one - and the halls of Congress. In a moment, we'll speak to California Representative Jackie Speier about her #MeToo story. But first, two state legislatures where women have also been speaking out - one from Washington State, one from Illinois - we begin with Austin Jenkins of the Northwest News Network.

AUSTIN JENKINS, BYLINE: At an outdoor cafe in downtown Seattle, Samantha Kersul holds the hand of a friend and tells the story of what happened to her one evening in 2009. She was out with some Democratic state lawmakers at a bar in downtown Olympia, the state capital. Kersul - who was 25 at the time and trying to get a full-time job in politics - says at one point she got up to go to the bathroom and a state representative named Brendan Williams followed her. But before she reached the bathroom...

SAMANTHA KERSUL: He pushed me against a wall, and he shoved his tongue down my throat. And I say it with that language because that's what happened.

JENKINS: Kersul says she pushed him off of her and yelled at him. And then, she says, as she hurried out of the bar, Williams offered to write her a letter of recommendation.

KERSUL: I'm still so angry about that because I think, at that point, I realized he was telling me how much power he had over me - that he could help my career or he could hurt my career.

JENKINS: Williams, who is no longer in elected office, won't address specific allegations but in a statement said, (reading) my past actions on a few occasions caused pain, and I own that responsibility and sincerely apologize.

Kersul is now a political fundraiser. And she's one of several women who are describing experiences they've had while working in and around the Washington legislature. Kersul didn't report what happened to her, but she's decided to tell her story now in hopes it helps change the culture.

KERSUL: There has to be a way for all victims to come forward safely and not feel ashamed or threatened.

JENKINS: For NPR News, I'm Austin Jenkins in Olympia, Wash. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."