Here we are, having just survived another brutal session of the Colorado legislature, and now this. What are we to do about a bra-snapping, butt-grabbing lobbyist?
Didn’t we have enough trouble dealing with degenerate legislators last year?
In case you missed the piece recently on Colorado Public Radio, my friend, Dede de Percin, and several other women joined state Sen. Jessie Danielson in revealing their experiences with Benjamin Waters, a lobbyist with a reputation for brazen public sexual assault.
After Danielson alleged that Waters grabbed her butt at an event four years ago — and Waters denied it — de Percin offered details of her own experiences with the man who apparently indulges a creepy brassiere fetish when he’s not busy bullying women with insults and collecting hefty fees from prominent clients.
In an email to state House and Senate leaders, de Percin recalled an end-of-session party in 2012 when “Ben pretended to give me a hug, then reached behind my back and unhooked my bra….”
No shrinking violet, de Percin told Waters emphatically that he should never touch her again. Then, later, she brought up the incident with some other women at the party who revealed he had done the same thing to them.
De Percin, who is openly gay, was executive director of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative and a registered lobbyist at the time. She currently is executive director of the Mile High Health Alliance.
In other interactions with Waters, she said he would “loudly call me a dyke, lesbo or other disparaging terms, ensuring that nearby elected officials and professional colleagues heard him.”
This from a guy who represents Mile High United Way, the Colorado Association of Gifted and Talented, Fostering Colorado, the Colorado LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, Native Roots and the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts.
Oh, and did I mention that Waters is openly gay?
An investigation into Danielson’s charges against Waters, conducted under the legislature’s workplace harassment policy, features comments from yet another woman who works in the Capitol who declined to reveal her name for fear of retribution.
He “has grabbed my [body parts] more times than I can remember,” she told the investigator. She also said she believed Waters was determined to retaliate against Danielson for reporting the incident. The investigator found it “more likely than not” that Waters committed harassing conduct, but he did not conclude that Waters retaliated against Danielson, CPR reported.
Waters is shocked, SHOCKED, to hear that anyone would accuse him of such behavior.
He is quoted in the investigator’s report saying, “I have never grabbed or slapped [Danielson’s] butt in jest or otherwise on any occasion.”
Now, I know what some of you are thinking: Waters’ denial should settle the matter.
A few amazingly specific and well-corroborated allegations here, an investigation there. It’s not a conviction in a court of law.
We heard that again and again from all the apologists for Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh. How dare these women come forth to tell their lurid stories when such information could endanger the raging entitlement to lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court for these poor victimized men.
I have come to accept that unless we’re all willing to wear body cameras at all times, we’re not going to have evidence that will hold up in a court of law every time some pig cops a feel or gets drunk and pins a woman down and tries to remove her clothing.
I accept that plenty of times prosecutors will say they have insufficient evidence to prove a crime beyond reasonable doubt.
But Danielson, de Percin and all the other women complaining about Waters aren’t asking that he go to prison.
They’re saying somebody needs to make him stop, and if the fact that Waters is not a state employee or an elected official makes that tough for legislative leaders, it’s time for his clients to take responsibility for a lobbyist who is widely reported to be behaving hideously on their behalf.
The tale of Benjamin Waters unfortunately lends credence to the critics who say that the Capitol is more “Animal House” than respectable institution, and that children should be kept away from the place the same way we protect them from porn sites and R-rated movies. That’s clearly overstating the case.
But for those of us who struggle to address the stubbornly insidious misogyny in our culture, at least this whole bizarre story clearly demonstrates that we can accept once and for all that sexual harassment is not about libido or affection or playful gestures.
It’s about humiliation, and it’s about power, plain and simple.
Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.