Adama Iwu, the leader of a movement calling out sexual harassment in California politics, is featured on the cover of Time Magazine’s Person of the Year edition and in a story highlighting women from all over the country who “started a revolution of refusal.”
Days after a fellow lobbyist inappropriately touched Iwu at a political event, the Sacramento lobbyist launched a campaign to draw attention to sexual harassment at the hands of powerful men at the Capitol. Iwu and more than 140 other women signed a “We Said Enough” letter that described a pervasive culture of harassment in political circles and engulfed Sacramento in a scandal that rippled across the nation.
“It’s hard to call 147 women liars,” Iwu, the head of Visa’s western U.S. government relations program, said in the Time article. “We can’t all be crazy. We can’t all be sluts.”
The letter, which published on Oct. 17, served as a rallying cry for female lobbyists, legislative employees, publicists and others to stand up against a system they say long silenced women and protected the men who mistreated them. Many women say they do not feel safe naming names without suffering retaliation.
Iwu told Time that she’s also been forced to consider the risks of speaking out. She said people were wary when she described the campaign before it got off the ground. “Remember Anita Hill,” she said others reminded her.
She appears on the Time cover alongside actress Ashley Judd, musician Taylor Swift, agricultural worker Isabel Pascual and former Uber engineer Susan Fowler. The women were among others Time dubbed “The Silence Breakers” and honored with the Person of the Year title.
Some women in California political circles have spoken openly about their experiences. As a result Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, a Los Angeles Democrat accused of groping women, resigned from the state Legislature and two other state lawmakers – Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, and Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, D-Los Angeles – lost their committee chairmanships after allegations surfaced about their behavior. Both Mendoza and Dababneh are under official investigation, according to leaders in the Senate and Assembly.
The scrutiny prompted leaders of both houses of the California Legislature to pledge to change the way the institution handles sexual harassment and assault allegations.
A bill to provide legislative employees with whistleblower protections has failed repeatedly in the California Senate. Now leaders say they intend to introduce and pass similar legislation in 2018.
The state Senate said it would strip its internal employees of some control over sexual harassment, abuse and assault investigations, instead requiring an outside law firm to probe allegations. The firm will also be tasked with establishing a confidential hotline for Senate staff to report their experiences, the pro tem’s office has said. The Senate is interviewing law firms this week.
The California Assembly held a hearing last week to begin a review of its sexual harassment policies. Lawmakers sharply criticized the house for not tracking of harassment complaints. The state Senate has not announced any plans to hold its own hearings.
The Assembly said outside investigators already handle some of its harassment allegations. Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, who led the sexual harassment hearing, said she’s pushing the house to set up a confidential hotline. Friedman also said she’s requesting that the Assembly begin tracking sexual misconduct complaints.
More Assembly hearings are expected in January. Time’s Person of the Year edition hits newsstands Thursday.