Rachael Wong said when she went public with her allegations and filed a complaint that former House Speaker Joe Souki subjected her to inappropriate comments and requests for “physical contact,” women suddenly began to seek her out to describe what they had experienced while working at the Hawaii State Capitol.
“I am so moved and saddened by what other women have shared in the past few weeks about the abuse of positional power they experienced through their work at the state Legislature,” Wong wrote in a statement Tuesday. “Some incidents are recent, while others are decades old. Regardless, the trauma and the visceral effects are vivid and carried, and the tears that come from reliving these experiences are real.”
If Hawaii has been slow to embrace the #MeToo movement that has swept the mainland, Wong said in a Honolulu Star-Advertiser interview she hopes the resolution of the state Ethics Commission investigation requiring that Souki resign his seat will “act as a springboard for where we can go for Hawaii.”
“I would hope that others would know that the Hawaii State Ethics Commission is a viable and confidential conduit for reporting sexual harassment by state officials,” she said. “I think the resolution of my complaint reveals that what we report has been heard, has been believed, has been recognized as a serious violation of ethical conduct.”
House Speaker Scott Saiki issued a statement this morning that “the House of Representatives takes a zero tolerance approach to workplace harassment, no matter the power or influence of the accused. The House takes workplace harassment matters very seriously. We have already increased training for House members and staff.”
“As many other institutions are already doing nationwide, we will conduct a comprehensive review of our workplace policies,” Saiki said in his statement. “The objective is to ensure that the House is able to receive, investigate and adjudicate complaints in a timely and vigilant manner. We will also explore other means to ensure that people feel respected and safe in the workplace.”
Wong told the Star-Advertiser that after she took her complaint public, she received hundreds of cards, emails, text messages, calls and even “hugs on the street from people I don’t know.”
She also received some hate mail, and some people tried to make her feel ashamed, but she said that was “far eclipsed by the support from everywhere.”
The most consistent theme from those communications was gratitude from women who thanked her “for speaking for me, for speaking for my daughters, for giving me a voice….Some people said, ‘I’ve really wanted to tell my own story, but I have nowhere to go.’”
People wrote that “this is unacceptable, we have to change. And yet for all of that, there’s not one woman that I know of who’s in a place where she can safely come forward,” Wong said. “And I think we’ve got to ask ourselves, why is that? This is an uncomfortable topic, sexual harassment in the workplace…but at the same time we all know this is not right.”
“I have heard from others that women, organizations, our community is watching and waiting to see what happens with my complaint, and the perceptions from some” is she is being attacked, Wong said. “I want others to know that has not been my experience. I feel so supported. This is the right thing for Hawaii.”
“This is the time. We are ready for change and a different future,” she said.