In a recent report about sexual harassment at state capitols, the deputy director for the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club spoke out about the sexual harassment she’s experienced at the Illinois statehouse.
“I’ve had hands up my skirt. I’ve had my hair pulled,” Kady McFadden told The Hill.
McFadden, who advocates for environmental policies at the Illinois Capitol, also said “it’s probably hard to find a woman in Springfield who doesn’t have a story about what’s happened to them.”
WBEZ’s Melba Lara spoke with McFadden about why she spoke out — and the power dynamics that prevent many others from doing the same.
On the factors that silence victims
Kady McFadden: The power dynamics are really at the core of the issue here, right? It’s unclear who to go to. There’s no H.R. department of the Capitol. And the culture is such that it’s both brushed under the rug and it’s kind of a thing you don’t really talk about.
But I felt particularly in a position to share my story as a way to highlight these instances that happen to so many that also don’t feel in a position to speak out. There’s so few women of color or queer women in these spaces, in these halls of power, and it makes it even harder for them to speak out. So that’s why I raised my hand and spoke out and said this is an issue.
On the prevalence of sexual harassment in Springfield
McFadden: I think it’s something that’s very prevalent in Springfield. I think it’s been prevalent for decades. You know, I’ve devoted my life to using the democratic and legislative process to make this state stronger, to make this planet cleaner and healthier for our communities. This issue is not just harmful to women. It’s harmful to the democratic process, and our ability to make policies that work for Illinois.
On the response she’s received from legislators
McFadden: The response I’ve personally been getting since that article was published is overwhelming and overwhelmingly positive. I’m hearing from male legislators that have called me and said, “I’m sorry I didn’t do more. I have seen this, I know it’s a problem, and I haven’t done anything, but I will and I’m going to be better.” I’ve had female legislators call me almost in tears saying, “Thank you for speaking up when I didn’t feel like I could.”
On specific actions to counter statehouse sexual harassment
McFadden: I’ve heard of a number of things that are being floated right now. I’ve heard mandatory sexual harassment training. That’s a really great first step. I’ve heard of calling for hearings on the issue. I think that’s a great step as well.
At this point, I don’t think anything should be off the table. Because this culture is so pervasive I think we need to be thinking about a multitude of ways to address the problem.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation, which was adapted for the web by producer Justin Bull.