The State Ethics Commission announced a settlement in the sexual harassment investigation of Hawai’i’s most senior lawmaker. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.
The Hawai’i State Ethics Commission concluded its investigation of the sexual harassment complaint filed by former Department of Human Services director, Rachael Wong. She said Maui Representative Joe Souki abused his power as House Speaker by making inappropriate comments about her physical appearance…and requested physical contact beyond a traditional greeting. Wong did not ask for money, nor was it win or lose.
“For me, it has nothing to do with win, lose or any combination of that. This is an opening that we hope people can come forward and talk about, ‘What is sexual harassment? What does it feel like? What does it look like? What are all of our individual roles? But, the flip side of it is actually about what we as individuals can do. It’s about each of our individual selves and our actions and our own awareness.”
An unspecified number of other women joined Wong and filed complaints of their own with the Ethics Commission. Souki agreed to a settlement instead of a full hearing. He will resign March 30, pay a 5-thousand dollar fine to the state and will not seek or accept public office for two years. Souki says he has regrets.
“Regrets of service? None. Regrets of this incident? Yes. I wish it didn’t happen but it did. And I want to move forward. And I apologized to all those who have accused me. And to my friends, if I have hurt them for what they perceive what I may be, I apologize also. It was all done without intent to hurt anyone.”
Representative Cindy Evans has served in the House of Representatives for 16 years, four of them as Majority Floor Leader when Souki was House Speaker. She says the culture at work has shifted and those left behind will pay a price.
“I think the takeaway to this is a teachable moment, that in the workplace – in a culture like Hawai’i – where people have a tendency to want to hug and kiss because it’s part of our culture. But now we have people in Hawai’i that aren’t from our culture. They don’t understand what our culture is. So what it says is, when you come to the office, you park whatever culture you have at the door.”
Wong, meanwhile, currently heads her own non-profit organization and wants other sexual harassment survivors – women and men – to tell their stories to create a different future.
“We can all be better people. And we can all play roles in creating a different future and our children growing into adults. There is #MeToo and there can also be, “Us All.”
Wong says sexual harassment survivors can email their stories to email@example.com. For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.