By Natalie Roadarmel
On Monday, Oregon Senator Jeff Kruse was once again accused of sexual assault. Allegations were made by Democratic Sen. Sara Gelser, stating that Kruse was notorious for inappropriate touching of women in the Oregon State Capitol. Although Gelser did not name Kruse at first, she later confirmed that he was who she was referring to and stated that Kruse’s unacceptable behavior began in 2011.
Gelser expressed that she was reporting Kruse’s behavior on behalf of other women. “I think as an elected leader in the Legislature, I have a responsibility to the many, many young women that work in the building, and older women too, as staffers and as lobbyists who are encountering these problems on a regular basis,” she commented.
The women at the capitol have notedly experienced a large range of inappropriate behavior from men, described by Gelser as including “being touched too long, having a hand on your thigh either above or below your skirt in what someone believes is just a friendly way, a hand around the shoulder where the fingers are going beneath your shirt, having someone pull you in too close, a hand that’s lingering on your lower back, or someone talking to you so closely that your ear is wet when you pull away.”
Kruse denied touching anybody inappropriately at the Capitol in an email to The Oregonian, saying that he did not remember ever touching Gelser in any way other than a side hug. Senate President Peter Courtney later utilized a rare form of discipline and stripped Kruse from all his committee appointments for Friday due to “ongoing workplace issues” after allegations were posted.
Gelser does not have a clean history at the capitol. Just last year he faced fines for smoking cigarettes in his office after state regulators warned him not to do so. This was confirmed to play a role in how the sexual assault accusations will be dealt with.
Currently, no formal or informal allegations have been made against Kruse. Gelser also stated that this was not the first time she had seen Kruse inappropriately touch a woman in the Capitol. She noted that this behavior has occurred in hallways, under the dias at committee hearings and in Senate chambers.
Gelser’s report of Kruse’s behavior occurred in conjunction with raised voices of women all across the United States. The #MeToo movement has taken the country by storm, which began after Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein had allegations made against him for sexual harassment and rape.
Surprisingly, the Kruse incident is tied into the Weinstein allegations. Kruse’s behavior came to light after Gelser was accused of accepting campaign donations from Weinstein. In the 1990’s, before Gelser was in the Legislature, the Oregon Democratic Party accepted a $5,000 donation from Weinstein. Gelser denied having any money from Weinstein but used this as a platform to raise awareness for sexual assault in the Capitol.
It may be strange to think that these allegations occurred right across the street from Willamette, but that is the reality of the situation. It is often easy to feel isolated from the rest of the Salem community while on campus, these happenings are only a few hundred feet away from the majority of students on campus. Although there has not been much formal action taken against Kruse yet, these accusations of sexual assault bring up an important conversation in the Salem community and across the whole of the United States.