All too familiar: Local women share their stories of sexual harassment

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Indiana Nash, The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y.
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Mar. 21—Share1FacebookTweetEmail

Sexual harassment in New York state government has been making headlines lately.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is serving his third term, has recently been accused of sexual harassment by several women, including some who work or worked in his administration. The first to step forward was Lindsey Boylan, a former special adviser to Cuomo who published an essay earlier this year, writing that the governor had made sexual remarks to her when she was an employee.

Since the essay was published, other women have come forward with their stories. Those allegations have led to an investigation by state Attorney General Letitia James, and prompted many state politicians and constituents to call for Cuomo's resignation.

But stories of sexual harassment aren't exclusive to state government. The recent accounts surrounding Cuomo sound all too familiar to many women in the Capital Region who say they too have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

According to a 2016 study by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 60% of women say they've experienced "unwanted sexual attention, sexual coercion, sexually crude conduct, or sexist comments," while in the workplace. The study also found that 90% of employees who experience harassment never file a formal complaint and 75% never complain to their employers.

With that in mind, The Gazette spoke with women from throughout the Capital Region about their experiences with sexual harassment in the workplace. The women work in a variety of fields — some in politics, others in academics, others in business. Many of their stories involve verbal sexual harassment, sometimes overt and other times subtle. Other stories include physical harassment.

During the course of The Gazette's reporting, several women came forward to tell their stories but felt they couldn't speak on the record. One local teacher who was interviewed shared her story, but felt uncomfortable with the idea that her students would read about her experience. Another woman feared retaliation from her current employer.

Instances like these show that even with movements such as #MeToo, speaking out about sexual harassment remains difficult and complicated. It's part of the reason this series also includes a section on what steps women can take if they are being sexually harassed at work.

While each woman's story is unique, they shared the same hope: that speaking about their experiences would ultimately help others.

Today's stories — All too familiar:

— Yasmine Syed, Niskayuna: 'It's ... a tactic to delegitimize and diminish a person'

— Nikita Hardy, Schenectady County: 'People roll their eyes'

— Ali Schaeffing, Albany: 'I know I didn't invite that'

— Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, Schenectady: 'We need to make sure that people are speaking up'

— Madelyn Thorne, Schenectady County: 'This should have stopped a long time ago'

— Carmel Patrick, Schenectady: 'It seemed so universal'

— Elizabeth Canavan, Niskayuna: 'I had no idea what to say or how to respond'

— Amanda Gonzalez-Barone, Glenville: 'It gets patronizing very quickly'

— What to do if you think you're being sexually harassed at the office

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