RI attorney general, state police to review harassment accusations

Rep. Teresa Tanzi, a Democrat representing Narragansett and South Kingstown, has said that she was told sexual favors would allow her sponsored legislation to progress further. (WJAR)

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and Rhode Island State Police Superintendent Ann Assumpico have released a joint statement saying their two agencies will "review" allegations of sexual harassment at the State House.

Rep. Teresa Tanzi, a Democrat representing Narragansett and South Kingstown, has said that she was told sexual favors would allow her sponsored legislation to progress further.

"In every job I've had, I've had similar experiences," Tanzi told NBC 10 News Wednesday.

The statement from Kilmartin and Assumpico added, "As is the policy of both the State Police and the Attorney General’s Office, the two agencies are not going to be making further comment with respect to the status of or direction of the inquiry."

Tanzi previously shared with the Providence Journal that as a state representative, she has been told that “sexual favors would allow my bills to go further.”

“The entirety of the interaction shows that this person was serious,” Tanzi later told NBC 10 News.

She said she decided at the time not report the experience, noting that there weren't good protections in place for doing so.

“It's about relationships in the building in order to be effective. And if you are the one who steps out, it makes life difficult for you,” Tanzi told Crandall. “I saw no reason to move forward on this and the only reason that I even bring it up now -- it's not to look backward. It really is to truly look forward.”

That's why she said she has refused to name the harasser.

“I think people are welcome to ask whatever questions they want, but I think they're missing the point,” Tanzi said.

The point, she said, is that harassment is a widespread issue and more work needs to be done in terms of prevention, as well as finding justice.

But a Republican national committeewoman from Rhode Island told NBC 10 News that she wants more to be done to change the atmosphere here, including an investigation that would reveal the harasser.

Tanzi also said the outpouring of support has been “tremendous.”

In a joint statement with Tanzi, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello commended her for coming forward.

"I know it was difficult for her and it took courage,” Mattiello said. “The overwhelming majority of members of the House conduct themselves appropriately at all times. However, sexual harassment in the workplace is unacceptable and will not be tolerated."

Mattiello went on to note that he plans to contact a human resource professional “to provide training to House members and staff at the beginning of the next legislative session.”

A statement made by the state’s Republican party entitled, “Stop the State House Harassment,” notes that Tanzi said that the person who made the comments was not her equal, but a higher-ranking state house official.

The statement also included reaction from Republican national committeewoman Lee Ann Sennick.

“It is incumbent upon the leadership of the RI General Assembly to take action and fully investigate this matter and pursue all means to ensure that this abhorrent practice is not perpetuated,” Sennick said. “Anything less is a disservice to the people of our state.”

Sennick added that everyone should support victims of sexual harassment, as well as raise awareness about how to prevent and deal with the issue.

“Only by having this discussion can we hope to educate and thus influence behaviors that have too long been reinforced,” she said.

Chairman Brandon Bell commented, as well, adding that “the alleged State House harasser should be identified and removed from his high-ranking position. The people of Rhode Island are tired of the bad behavior that goes on at the highest levels of their government."

During a segment of NBC 10’s "Connect to the Capitol" with Dan Jaehnig, Gov. Gina Raimondo said though she doesn’t think sexual harassment is common behavior at the State House, she said she believes the legislature should develop a policy, also saying that the governor’s office has adopted its own rules.

“It’s not right what’s happening and it seems from what she’s saying that it’s the time for the legislature to take a hard look at their policies and do a better job of making the culture a place that women feel safe and women are respected for their work,” Raimondo said. “Like so many women who are coming out and telling their stories, you really have to give them credit for being courageous…We all have a responsibility to do everything within our power every day to stamp put sexual harassment in our places of work.”

Tanzi, who said she’s pleased there is now a heightened awareness to change the culture, she thanked everyone, including Mattiello, for supporting her throughout the ordeal.

“Speaker Mattiello is committed to working with me and all women to ensure a better environment moving forward and I commend him for that,” she noted in the joint release. “He has asked me to chair a commission studying the issue of workplace harassment and assault, and I am grateful that he will also be providing training on this issue at the State House. The only way to stop this is for all of us to work together. I know this will not be changed in a day, or even a year, but the willingness of the House leadership to tackle this head-on gives me confidence that the chance I took in disclosing my experiences will result in significant change.”

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