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Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Can Ethics Commission Lift Veil of Secrecy from Hawaii Sex Harassment Complaints?
By Andrew Walden @ 9:50 PM :: 4811 Views :: Ethics, Hawaii State Government

by Andrew Walden

Does the Ethics Commission offer a process which can break through the veil of secrecy behind which sex harassment complaints have been hidden in Hawaii?

That’s the message today from former DHS Director Rachael Wong, whose ethics complaint just forced the resignation of former House Speaker Joe Souki.

Akamai readers will remember that the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission utilizes a process which keeps sex harassment complaints private.  Similarly, rules of the Hawaii State Senate and House of Representatives prohibit staff from revealing ‘illegal or improper conduct’.

The Associated Press, December 22, 2017, reports that under these rules, sex harassment complaints have been secretly adjudicated against three unnamed State Representatives and one State Senator.  Assuming that Souki is one of the three Representatives, this means that names of at least three State legislator sex-harassers remain secret. 

Souki was outed in the wake of his participation in a failed effort to unseat current House Speaker Scott Saiki.  In response to the Ethics Commission revealing settlement terms of the sex harassment complaint against Souki, Saiki writes:

The House of Representatives takes a zero tolerance approach to workplace harassment, no matter the power or influence of the accused….

As many other institutions are already doing nationwide, we will conduct a comprehensive review of our workplace policies. 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.

If this were really true, Saiki would name names instead of exploiting complaints for factional purposes. 

Meanwhile, Wong suggests that the Ethics Commission process opens the door to exposing the sex harassers in the Legislature and elsewhere.  In a four page statement issued today, Wong says:

This can be a springboard to a different future for us all …

I would like to thank the Hawaii State Ethics Commission for its thorough investigation of my complaint and the tremendous amount of work that went into the resolution. The Commission staff are consistently professional and responsive, and they honored the requests for confidentiality from all of us who came forward throughout this process. I am grateful that an entity like the Commission exists and that it is led with and grounded in law and ethics. It must be known that it is a safe and effective conduit for reporting sexual harassment by state officials….

I quietly filed my complaint with the Hawai‘i State Ethics Commission after recognizing it as a viable, confidential entity for reporting sexual harassment in the state workplace and with the hope that resolution could open up space for the community to focus on some real issues at hand.

There may be more to come.  Wong continues:

Second, I would like to thank and applaud the courageous women who also filed complaints with the Ethics Commission. Several found me after the news about my complaint became public. In this current culture, not one of them is in a place where they feel they can safely disclose their identities at this time. This is significant.

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