DENVER – Colorado state Rep. Faith Winter says she plans to file a formal complaint against Rep. Steve Lebsock Monday afternoon, as leadership from both parties say they have new plans to prevent sexual harassment at the state Capitol.
Winter, D-Westminster, told Denver7 Monday the formal filing comes on the heels of Lebsock’s weekend statement asking that she and two other women who have accused him of sexual advancements and harassment file the formal complaints.
Winter went public last Friday with allegations that Lebsock, D-Thornton, made inappropriate comments toward her at the 2016 party celebrating the end of that year’s legislative session, and that he’d tried to get her to leave with him.
She told Denver7 Friday, and reiterated again Monday, that she had told House leadership of Lebsock’s actions shortly after that happened, but that she had agreed not to file a formal complaint after coming to an agreement with Lebsock and leadership.
“I did inform him that should I continue to hear of him continuing to harass other women, I would be the first one to come forward publicly,” Winter said.
She said Lebsock was “very apologetic and said it would not happen again” at the time, but after KUNC’s Bente Birkeland told Winter there were others making similar allegations to her, Winter went forward with the story by telling it to KUNC, and the rest of Denver’s press outlets.
Lebsock issued a statement later Friday asking Winter and “any anonymous accusers” to “submit any official complaint, through the normal professional process not just through the media” and denying the allegations.
On Saturday, Lebsock sent The Denver Post another statement saying, “I am sorry,” and that he would decide whether or not to step down as a state representative and candidate for state treasurer by the end of this month.
Some had apparently questioned Winter’s telling of her reporting of Lebsock’s actions to House Speaker Crisanta Duran,as she reiterated again Monday that her story hadn’t changed.
“From when I first informed Speaker Duran about the incident to today when I informed her I would be filling a formal complaint, she has been very supportive and has also followed all the guidelines as outlined in our workplace harassment policy,” she told Denver7. “I 100-percent support the Speaker, and we need to focus on the only person to blame for Steve Lebsock’s actions – Steve himself.”
@iansilverii and all of leadership did everything they were supposed to do. 1. Took the allegation seriously 2. Presented me with all legal options 3. Supported the survivor and my course of action I chose at the time. #copolitics
But Duran and legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle were already moving to stop such incidents and allegations from happening in the future on Monday morning.
Both parties issued press releases detailing new initiatives aimed at preventing sexual harassment at the state Capitol.
Duran’s plan calls for a full review of existing workplace harassment policies, looks to bridge partisanship, would work to put more safeguards into the reporting process, and would put in place yearly training for people who work at the Capitol.
Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, floated similar ideas: increasing trainings for all legislators and Capitol staffers, expanding the topics the training covers, creating an offline reporting system, publishing extra resources on the Legislature’s website, and creating a committee to review policies and guidelines.
“We take the issue of sexual harassment very seriously and hope that these proposed expansions will make all members of our Capitol community feel safe and respected,” Grantham said.
“These ideas are a starting point for updating our policy so it best suits the needs of the people who work here, and is in line with best practices from around the country,” Duran said.
Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Douglas County, told Denver7 he was encouraged by the plans from Duran and Grantham.
“There is such a level of respect and professionalism that it is troubling to hear that doesn’t extend to every corner of this building,” Holbert said. “We need to find ways to do that.”
Holbert also praised House Assistant Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver, for stepping in when Winter was allegedly being harassed by Lebsock and for reporting the behavior.
“There are two people I have read about in these stories the past few days who I really want to commend, and that’s Rep. Winter and Assistant Majority Leader Alec Garnett,” Holbert said. “I saw [Garnett] this morning and told him face to face, ‘I hope to be more like Rep. Alec Garnett.’”
“What I appreciate about what Rep. Garnett did is he took immediate action, based on what I read, and addressed the issue and put a stop to that,” Holbert continued. “If something like that occurred and I was present, I would hope that anyone would be comfortable and turn to me and say, ‘I need your help,’ and I would be there to do that.”
He told Denver7 he applauded Duran and Grantham’s combined efforts, and said he thought it was likely there would be no opposition to expanding the investigation and reporting processes into alleged harassment.
Winter, meanwhile, told Denver7 Monday that she’s received an outpouring of support after she spoke out on Friday, and said other women who have experienced similar advances had come to her over the weekend.
“I have been surprised and grateful for the outpouring of support I have had—both online, through texts, emails and through phone calls,” she said.
“I think one of the more surprising things is that women have been calling me with their stories of harassment and assault because it’s the first time they’re saying it out loud, and it’s the first time they can feel they can say it out loud to me, or write it out to me,” Winter continued.
“I would like to let them know that just by having a story and moving forward, that they are brave and strong.”
Phones light up at The Blue Bench
Karmen Carter, executive director of The Blue Bench, Denver's sex assault support service center, says they've been getting more phone calls from people sharing their stories about sexual assault and sex harassment, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the "Me Too" campaign.
When asked why so many people are coming forward and sharing their stories, Carter said, "They're feeling safe."
She said there are still some people who don't feel comfortable talking about their assault or harassment experience because they fear of losing their jobs.
She said she's glad to see more people overcoming that fear.
When asked if the initiatives proposed by legislative leaders will change behavior, Carter said the only thing that is going to change bad behavior is holding people accountable.
She said it needs to be a community wide effort.
"We need people stepping up," she said, "not just the survivors sharing their stories, but other people who see things and should say something."