Lawmaker: 'I was not joking' about sexual harassment

Rhode Island State House (WJAR)

Instead of satisfying concerns about sexual harassment, a training session for Rhode Island lawmakers may have raised more controversy.

The training on Wednesday was the same that is given to state workers, and it included diversity training as well as how to act with members of the opposite sex.

Most of the representatives attended, including Teresa Tanzi, who brought the issue to light in October when she told the Providence Journal that she'd been told sexual favors might get her bills passed.

During the training, at a moment when the instructor was talking about asking for sexual favors at work, state Rep. Ramon Perez of Providence was quoted as saying, "How do you do that?"

State Rep. Moira Walsh, a Providence Democrat, said she was offended by the question.

"I'm deeply disappointed and am seeking the help of my leadership team in determining, how to proceed," Walsh told NBC 10 News.

Perez said Thursday that he has a heavy accent and that he was misunderstood. He also said he was being sincere.

“Explain to me how people do that kind of stuff? That was a question,” Perez told NBC 10.

Perez went on to note that “You go because you want to learn. I asked a question, 'How do you do that?'"

He said the response of the room of representatives taking the training was disheartening.

“When I asked the question, everybody start laughing," he said. "I thought maybe, well, that was a naïve question. You know, when you see people laughing when you ask a question, you feel like, let me just be quiet in this corner, and that’s what I did.”

Perez added that women aren't the only victims of harassment.

"Men can be harassed too, because that’s the way I feel now," Perez said.

"I know my English may be hard to understand at times, but I wish people would have asked me what I was trying to say before criticizing me," Perez said. "I was not joking when I asked a question to the presenter to explain to me more about the issue of sexual favors. I feel badly if anyone misunderstood what I was asking because I went there to learn about this very serious issue."

Perez, a Democrat, is the same representative who handed out material at a committee hearing last year that included tabs for pornographic sites at the top of the page.

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