Witnesses, public gather at meeting to address misogyny in New Jersey politics

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Nearly a dozen witnesses told a New Jersey panel looking at sexual misconduct and misogyny in state politics that better training is needed to halt misbehavior.

The Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogyny in New Jersey Politics held the first of what are expected to be at least three public meetings Tuesday in Fort Lee. The panel is chaired by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and included Democratic Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and 11 other women from across New Jersey politics.

Weinberg set the panel up after a December report on NJ.com that cited dozens of instances of misconduct, including groping, unwanted advances and even assault.

Numerous women who attended the meeting recalled times that they were propositioned, groped or harassed at political events over the years in the state.

“I remember thinking, ‘I’m 18 and they’re men in their late-50s. No one is ever going to believe me,” one woman said.

The emotional stories the women’s experiences with harassment and sexual assault drove committee member Patricia Teffenhart to tears.

“I also never cry,” Teffenhart said while breaking down.

RELATED: Panel created to examine how to free NJ politics of misogyny and sexual misconduct 
RELATED: Murphy administration 'appalled' by NJ.com report about sexual misconduct in politics 

The discussion surrounded the women’s personal experiences, as well as ways to review and update policy to create positive change in the culture.

“I think by shining a light on this culture of exposing it to the public and making women feel safe to come forward, are the right steps we are taking,” Weinberg said.

According to the workgroup's mission statement, sexual violence disproportionately impacts women in the policy-making and political arenas. Weinberg says the workgroup has a multilayered strategy including closed-door listening sessions and an anonymous online survey to allow all voices to be heard.

"We have literally hundreds who have answered the survey,” the senator said.

Among those in attendance, Katie Brennan, who accused a member of Gov. Phil Murphy's campaign staff of sexual assault.

Lt. Gov. Oliver says that she hopes that by the time the panel is finished, they can produce a guide for those who are in leadership positions.

The next public former is expected to be held in March.

The Associated Press wire services contributed to this report.

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