Those who work at the Florida Capitol say the recent sexual harassment case against Sen. Jack Latvala was just the tip of the iceberg. They say sexual harassment — of both women and men — is part of the culture in Tallahassee.
State Rep. Kristin Jacobs agrees.
“Yes, and I say that from personal experience,” Jacobs said Friday afternoon.
Jacobs, a Democrat from Coconut Creek, is about to begin her second session as a legislator. She says her first year in state government was an eyeopener.
Jacobs had previously served on the Broward County Commission for 16 years. She served on two national task forces and said she dealt with all levels of government and numerous associations. But, she says nothing in those past 16 years could prepare her for what she experienced in her freshman year as a state legislator.
“Nothing ever happened like what happened when I got to the Capitol,” Jacobs said. “It was the culture, the acceptance of it was just so frustrating to me. It made me very sad. It took me about that first full year to figure out how to deal with it, how to navigate around it, what to say.”
Jacobs won’t elaborate, but she says she was touched and talked to inappropriately during that first year. Like other sexual harassment victims who refuse to tell their stories, Jacobs says victims are told they will be protected “and we can clearly see, that so far, that has yet to happen.”
She has joined forces with Sen. Lauren Book to sponsor legislation in the upcoming session aimed at changing the culture in state government and elsewhere as it pertains to sexual harassment.
The bill would create a task force designed to find ways to deal with the problem in government settings that go beyond the reporting of such incidents — how should a victim of sexual harassment handle the situation, what should they say and do to avoid harassment? She says there are a lot of things that need to be “contemplated and flushed out” and that’s what she hopes the task force will do.
She says what makes this task force different from other groups appointed to deal with problems is that this one will be ongoing. It will meet every four years to address the issue of sexual harassment, assess what’s working and what’s not, and figure out how to move forward until the problem is solved.
The task force would be made up of state legislators, legislative staff members, representatives from the Florida Association of Counties and Florida League of Cities, a member of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, a member of the Association of Professional Lobbyists, a member of the Florida Behavioral Health Association, and a representative from the Florida Press Association.
“It’s time that we took a complete about face and look at our own culture and say this has got to stop. It can’t continue,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs says she and Sen. Book have the full support of Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.