Another male legislator has been accused of inappropriate behavior directed toward a female legislative aide during the session.
Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kotzebue, has been accused of unwanted sexual advances during the 2017 legislative session by former legislative aide Olivia Garrett, who spoke publicly about the incident at an Alaska Democratic Party event on Thursday night.
Documents provided to The Midnight Sun detail two unwanted advances Westlake made toward Garrett during events before and during the legislative session. The incidents allegedly included physical contact.
She said she brought the concerns to House Majority Leader Rep. Chris Tuck in writing, but didn’t believe the letter was brought directly to House Speaker Bryce Edgmon or Westlake. Garrett said, however, she was never approached by Westlake after bringing the incident forward.
Similar accusations arose during a meeting hosted by the Alaska Democratic Party on Thursday night, where some members claimed party officials had been warned about Westlake’s previous behavior during the 2016 campaign season when Westlake won his seat.
An increasingly visible reality
By many accounts, unwanted advances and sexual harassment have long been a reality for many female staffers–and even some female legislators–working in Juneau. Some have brushed it off, not wanting to risk reprisal or jeopardize their own career, but a growing visibility in the national realm has encouraged more people to come forward and publicize their experiences.
Garrett said she was motivated to bring her story public because she felt her experience wasn’t unique.
“There is this idea in the Capitol that the work you do is more important than any one person. And obviously it’s important. But, as staff, you have no protections and no rights,” she said. “If you report a problem, then you are the problem.”
The Legislature has launched a special committee to review and update the legislative harassment policy after allegations of inappropriate behavior by Sen. David Wilson surfaced.