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As Florida's politically powerful men fear becoming targets of sexual harassment allegations, the new-found awareness of a male-dominated Legislature has come with a cost: women are collateral damage.
Female staffers and lobbyists who returned to the Capitol last week for pre-session meetings, discovered many male legislators will no longer meet with them privately. Accustomed to Tallahassee's Southern culture, where men and women casually and routinely greet each other with hugs, legislators are doing an awkward dance to replace a hug with a handshake. And the fear of retaliation — against women who brought forward allegations or those who may in the future — is as raw as the fear that legislators' political enemies could turn sexual harassment claims into new political weapons.
"I had a senator say, 'I need my aide here in the room because I need a chaperone,' " said Jennifer Green, a veteran lobbyist, after meeting with a senator in his Capitol office to discuss a client's issue. "I said, 'Senator, why do you need a chaperone? I don't feel uncomfortable around you, do you feel uncomfortable around me? 'Well,' he said, 'anyone can say anything with the door shut.' "