Sexual Harassment: Have We Reached A Cultural Turning Point?

Dec 13, 2017

In a new hour-long special, "Sexual Harassment: A Moment of Reckoning," Weekend Edition Sunday host Lulu Garcia-Navarro takes a deep dive into a national conversation that is growing louder by the day. It's a conversation that has been fed by scandals that have implicated powerful people from the entertainment industry to the media — including NPR — raising the possibility that we're seeing the beginning of a cultural shift.

In Colorado, statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland has reported on sexual harassment at the capitol, including breaking the story of Rep. Steve Lebsock, who was accused of intimidating and pressuring a fellow lawmaker, Rep. Faith Winter.

Since her initial report, others have come forward, leading to formal complaints filed against not only Lebsock but also Sens. Jack Tate and Randy Baumgardner

Birkeland talked with KUNC's Desmond O'Boyle about her coverage and the resulting fallout. 

Part 1: The floodgates have opened. Why now? NPR correspondent Elizabeth Blair explores that question when she reaches back to another pivotal moment, when Anita Hill testified before a Senate committee in 1991 about her own workplace harassment.

Part 2: It's a men's issue. Men weigh in. Wade Hankin, a 25-year-old man from Seattle, launched a partner hashtag to #metoo — #ihave — in a post in which he admitted his own inappropriate actions involving women and encouraged other men to do so as well. Radio journalist Mary Beth Kirchner profiles Jackson Katz, an educator who has spent 27 years giving talks and workshops to boys and men on the dangers of "boys will be boys" attitudes.

Part 3: What's the line? Defining and handling workplace sexual harassment. Lin Farley, a journalist and author who helped popularize the term "sexual harassment" in the 1970s, shares the long view. Kaitlin Prest, host of The Heart podcast, and Cathy Young, contributing editor for Reason magazine — who wrote a recent Los Angeles Times column suggesting some offenders are being punished excessively — debate the definition. And human resources consultant Laurie Ruettimann explains how organizations address sexual misconduct.

More on coverage from the Colorado Capitol

Bente Birkeland broke the story of sexual harassment accusations made against Rep. Steve Lebsock on Nov. 10. Lebsock responded to the allegations and said he has done nothing "criminal." Many political leaders — including Gov. John Hickenlooper — called for Lebsock's resignation. Lebsock characterized the reprots against him as "blackmail and coercion and extortion," and announced at the end of the month that he would continue to serve in the legislature and run for state treasurer.

Meanwhile, Rep. Matt Gray said he plans to introduce a resolution to the legislature in January to remove Lebsock from office.

Following the report on Lebsock, Sens. Jack Tate and Randy Baumgardner were named in new claims of sexual harassment. They both denied any wrongdoing. Official complaints were later filed against both lawmakers.

Voters across the state have weighed in on the allegations, noting that Birkeland's reporting has left an impact on how they may vote in upcoming elections. 

“I think we need to send the message that this is not OK,” Kathy Ochsner of Centennial told Birkeland. “This is not part of the workplace.”

Music credits for Colorado segment:

  • "Realness" by Kai Engel
  • "The Busker" by Adam Ben Ezra