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NY politicians grapple with sexual assault allegations

Eight former legislative staffers testified before the state Assembly recently, outlining not only the sexual harassment they say they were subjected to, but also how top lawmakers and staff worked to discredit and silence them.

Their testimony comes as more leading figures in the worlds of politics, entertainment, sports and business come under scrutiny for unwarranted sexual behavior.

Difficult testimony

The testimony by the staffers – seven women and one man – focused on behavior by politicians and political staffers including former Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak, former Assemblyman Micah Kellner, former Assemblyman Vito Lopez and former Assembly staffer Michael Boxley.

One man told lawmakers that after he reported harassment from Wozniak, she retaliated by slandering his reputation.

Two former members of Lopez’s staff recalled the emotional toll the harassment took on them. They said they suffer from PTSD, depression, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts.

One woman said she was ordered to fire a staff member who had reported online advances from Kellner.

Another woman described how top Assembly leadership protected Boxley after she reported he had raped her.

The witnesses also said the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) – the group charged with investigating harassment claims against lawmakers – would interrogate the accusers but never report back about the status of any of the cases.

One lawmaker pressed the issue, saying JCOPE investigate 43 incidents and released findings on only three of them.

Wozniak and Kellner were sanctioned for their behavior. Lopez was forced to resign. He died in 2015. Boxley was convicted of sexual misconduct in a separate case.

#MeToo movement

The hearing was the first in the state capitol on sexual harassment in nearly 30 years. It comes in the wake of the movement which highlights workplace harassment.

If you or someone you love is the victim of workplace sexual harassment or any retaliation that has followed such harassment, you have options. It is a good idea to contact an experienced attorney who can help provide proper legal representation.

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