SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — After news broke of numerous sexual assaults and harassment by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, women around the world took to social media to share their experiences. State Representative Teresa Tanzi was among those who did so and spoke with Eyewitness News Tuesday night about her decision to join the conversation.
Tanzi, D-South Kingstown, said she feels that as a lawmaker, she must use her platform to speak up about her own experiences with sexual harassment. In an interview Monday with the Providence Journal, she said that she was told by a colleague that sexual favors would allow her bills to go further.
Tanzi declined to elaborate on the incident but said it was far from the first that she’s experienced.
“I have been in the workforce for three decades,” she said. “It started with my very first job and continued to this day.”
She said she’s received dozens of messages from people thanking her for showing others that sexual harassment is far more common than one might think.
But the worldwide conversation that the Weinstein news has sparked can lead to positive change, she said.
“Personally I think that this is something that we’ll look at and definitively point to and say, ‘this is where the change began,'” she said.
That change might start in the State House, where House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has asked her to chair a commission studying the issue of workplace harassment and assault.
“I found that when it happened to me, it was incredibly difficult to find information on what I could do,” Tanzi said. “And the information I did found out was not very satisfactory, so I think that we have some room for improving the laws on the books for the people of Rhode Island.”
“I commend Representative Tanzi for coming forward and discussing this troubling issue,” Speaker Mattiello said in a statement. “I know it was difficult for her and it took courage. The overwhelming majority of members of the House conduct themselves appropriately at all times. However, sexual harassment in the workplace is unacceptable and it will not be tolerated.”
Mattiello said that he plans to bring in a human resources professional at the start of the next legislative session to train House members and staff to provide training.
Rep.Tanzi shared that although talking about the topic may be difficult, the power of the impact will be worth it.
“I think this is something that is undeniable and cannot be stopped. I don’t think you can put this back into the bottle.”