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It’s time for society to listen to misconduct complaints

A former lawmaker’s letter to the Journal revives a two-year-old complaint involving Rep. Nate Gentry. She and two of Gentry’s colleagues speak up on the issue of workplace misbehavior.

Rep. Stephanie Maez

As long as I can remember, I’ve understood that I’m not safe. As a young girl, I was taught to never sit on a man’s lap, never take short cuts when walking alone, and to always be aware of my surroundings. For many women, these rules of thumb are no-brainers – however, that’s part of society’s problem.

Sexual harassment, sexual violence, domestic violence and any form of harassment are completely unacceptable and must not be tolerated. And it seems that our society is finally ready to listen to those brave survivors sharing their stories.

But before we claim victory, we must address our own vulnerabilities – our complicity. We must face that our society inherently responds to these types of allegations by standing up for the accused perpetrator instead of supporting the potential victim.

We see these unspeakable acts swept under the rug from college campuses to the halls of Congress to our very own Roundhouse. And it is time that society’s basic instinct to shame the victim ends now.

We live in a society where I – as a mother – have to speak with my 9-year-old daughter about boundaries, about trusting her gut and saying no or stop when something is uncomfortable, and to always trust that she can come to me if she feels that someone has hurt her. This is my reality as a mother. This is a reality for all parents.

Our complicity as a society has allowed unacceptable behaviors to be dismissed as simply “locker-room talk.”

I challenge each of us to examine our society and the actions, or lack thereof, taken during past instances of sexual harassment, sexual violence and misconduct.

After the infamous Billy Bush tapes were released, many of us thought Donald Trump was finished. Now, a known sexual predator sits in the White House.

In 2015, when I served as a state representative,Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, doctored a photo of me with sexist imagery and distributed it to our colleagues.

(At the time Maez said she never saw the photo. News publications showed it was a pseudo valentine with her picture, on which Gentry had drawn “XOXO” and “thanks for your vote Paul”, and handed to another lawmaker. The reference was to Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, after he voted for a Maez bill.)

I knew there was a chance that the media, the public, and the Legislature would not take this seriously, but I filed an official letter of complaint nonetheless.

Gentry denied any wrongdoing, the media dropped the story after one day, and the Legislature at large did not demand Gentry’s resignation nor an apology.

All were complicit.

As we examine recent allegations of sexual assault and harassment by (Alabama Senate candidate) Roy Moore, U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and our own state Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, we must ask ourselves: who was/is complicit?

Was it the parent that consented to their under-age daughter having a relationship with an adult man? Was it the person that took the photo and all those that silently watched? Was it the voters who continued to elect someone that was the cause of a hostile work environment? Or was it the city that dropped the sexual harassment charges but gave a monetary settlement to the victim?

All were complicit.

The optimist in me believes this is the tipping point, that the change women have sought over the centuries is finally happening. The realist in me will continue to not run alone before the sun rises, to check the bed of my truck before I leave a parking lot, and to always be aware of my surroundings. I will continue to talk to my little girl about autonomy, personal boundaries and to always feel safe in confiding in me if she feels someone has hurt her.

I also pledge to end my own complicity by asking Sen. Padilla to step down from his lieutenant governor race. It’s time to draw a clear line in the sand. It’s time to set the right examples. Future generations must know that sexual harassment, sexual violence, domestic violence and any form of harassment will not be tolerated by our society.

The complicity must end now.

Maez is the incoming executive director of ProgressNowNM.