A female former legislative staff member is charging that sexual harassment is widespread at the Kansas Statehouse.
Abbie Hodgson, who served as chief of staff to former House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs from 2014 to July of 2016, was one of several women quoted in an article about sexual harassment in Statehouses across the country published Wednesday by The Hill, a Washington, D.C., publication that covers government and politics.
In an interview Wednesday with the Kansas News Service, Hodgson said sexual harassment was “rampant” during her time in the minority leader’s office. It ranged from inappropriate comments and touching to explicit demands for sex, she said.
“It rose to a level which I found shocking both in terms of the number of individuals who were perpetrators and how often it occurred,” Hodgson said.
Hodgson, who now works for a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization, said she also was “shocked” to learn that some lawmakers routinely had interns, many of them underage and female, chauffer them to after-hours social events.
“I can’t tell you how incensed I was when I found out that legislators were doing that,” she said. “This is supposed to be an educational opportunity for these young women and young men, and the fact that legislators were taking advantage of them and asking them to do that alarmed me, particularly given the predatory nature of the legislators who did it.”
Burroughs told The Hill that as soon as he learned of the practice he stopped it.
“Allegations were brought to our attention over the years, yes,” Burroughs said. “Although there’s no formal procedures when allegations of that type come forward, these are issues I take very seriously.”
But Hodgson said Burroughs didn’t do enough.
“I didn’t find his responses to be satisfactory at the time and I don’t find them to be satisfactory now,” she said. “He was in a position of leadership. And I think he had an obligation to the staff, to the interns and other legislators to do more than to simply tell someone to ‘knock it off.’”
Burdett Loomis, the emeritus professor of political science who runs the University of Kansas' legislative intern program, said no one alerted him that students were being pressed into service as designated drivers.
"I'm not saying nothing happened, but nothing was reported to me," Loomis said.
Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.