State representative says she's been subjected to sexual harassm - Tucson News Now

State representative says she's been subjected to sexual harassment by colleagues

Michelle Ugenti-Rita (Source: Facebook) Michelle Ugenti-Rita (Source: Facebook)
PHOENIX (Tucson News Now) -

Arizona Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita said on her Facebook page that she "experienced unwanted sexual advances and lewd and suggestive comments regarding my body and appearance from male colleagues" at the capitol. Read her full statement below:

I would like to share my thoughts and experience regarding sexual harassment in the work place:

Sexual harassment in the workplace has been catapulted to the front of the national discussion and Arizona is not immune. Unfortunately, it took the situation in the entertainment industry to expose a systemic problem that has existed in many places for a very long time.

As someone who the public has entrusted to represent them at the state legislature to address the issues confronting our state, I feel a responsibility to address this matter as well. Almost immediately upon my arrival to the capitol, I experienced unwanted sexual advances and lewd and suggestive comments regarding my body and appearance from male colleagues. Unfortunately, what I thought would be a professional and respectful work environment was not the reality I was experiencing.

As the behavior became more aggressive and brazen, I could no longer ignore what was happening because being at the capitol and interacting with some of my peers became uncomfortable and intimidating as I established myself in this new role. Starting out in any industry puts one in a vulnerable position and these behaviors exploited and took advantage of my lack of familiarity with the dynamic I was in.

I brought what was happening to me to the attention of House leadership as that seemed to be the appropriate, and only, recourse available to me. While they were understanding and responsive to me, the lack of a traditional employer/employee relationship made it very difficult for them to deal with it in a meaningful way. Given the nature of the House of Representatives and that each member is duly elected, they were limited in what actions they could take to remedy the situation.

After taking this step, I continued to perform my duties and engage in the process. What quickly became apparent to me was that while my efforts were mostly successful in my own chamber, I encountered what felt like deliberate actions were taken directed only at me in the other chamber. As a result, I began to feel isolated and that I was being held to a different standard than the other members. Meaning I had to go above and beyond then norm to accomplish what others were able to do.

By sharing my experiences and how they have impacted my tenure in the legislature, I hope it encourages others to come forward to address sexual and/or workplace harassment whether they have been a victim or not. Also, I strongly encourage the leaders of both chambers, and any members that wish to participate, to create a formal process that encourages people to feel safe to raise instances of any harassment they are experiencing. This process should provide accountability and a resolution that is meaningful to achieve the ultimate goal of creating a safe work environment.

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