Update: Senator Dean Westlake says he will not resign.

Capitol Building in Juneau, Alaska
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - UPDATE: Senator Dean Westlake's office sent out a statement just before 6 o'clock Tuesday afternoon. It says:

"I would have preferred to publicly respond to recent allegations, but I am still in recovery from heart surgery and must make a written statement only. These allegations have become a confidential personnel matter, and in respecting the process I cannot discuss the details. I very much wish that I could.

However, I will say the following: I want to once again apologize to any woman whom I have made uncomfortable with either my actions or words. I never intended to hurt anyone, but I understand now that I have. I am truly sorry for that, and I want to thank anyone who came forward. Doing so required strength and bravery. In the midst of a national moment that has empowered many women to come forward with their painful experiences, I have found myself re-examining my own actions and thinking through how they have affected the women with whom I work and interact. I, like many men, have learned a lot from the women who have shared their stories over the past few weeks. I used to think of certain actions as friendly or funny, but I have come to understand that they can be offensive and intrusive.

I am imperfect, and I know I have disappointed many people who trusted me to represent them. Let me be clear, I am committed to being better and to changing my behavior. I will learn from this experience, and I will be an ally and supporter of women moving forward.

Many people in the past few days have called for me to resign. I have thought seriously about it, and I have asked for counsel from friends, family, native leaders, Elders, and God. I have decided not to.

I am proud to represent House District 40, which is not a Republican or Democrat district- it is an Alaskan district. I will continue to work on behalf of the people of my district and of Alaska more broadly.

I want to thank everyone who has supported me throughout this time. These stories do not reflect who I am, and I am determined to make it right."

Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kiana, is accused of sexual harassment by a former legislative staffer, prompting the Speaker of the House to release a statement on sexual harassment policy.

A former legislative staff member says Westlake sexually harassed her twice, earlier this year. She requested that KTUU use only her first name, Olivia, rather than her full name.

In a letter to House leadership dated March 13, 2017, Olivia details two separate incidents involving Rep. Westlake making "unwelcome physical contact" with her.

She claims the first instance occurred on Jan. 16, in the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. In the letter, she claims that Rep. Westlake grabbed her and, "made a comment about my hair saying that it 'turned him on.'"

Two months later, Olivia alleges that Rep. Westlake again made unwelcome advances towards her, in a downtown art studio.

"I didn’t see him until he was right next to me," she wrote in the letter. "He grabbed my butt as he walked by. I pushed his shoulder, but not with enough force for him to move or probably even notice since he kept moving. A nearby staffer saw the incident."

Olivia wrote the letter of complaint following the second incident. It was addressed to Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, and House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage.

In e-mail exchanges with Channel 2, Olivia said her former supervisor asked Rep. Tuck to meet with Olivia, even before she crafted the letter, in order to discuss the "next steps." During that meeting, she says Rep. Tuck gave her "very specific instructions" for language to use in the letter, which she followed.

She says the instructions especially applied to the letter's lines about hoping to "move forward in a professional manner" as to not "embarrass or damage" anyone involved.

"I feared retaliation, if I didn't do what he (Rep. Tuck) asked," she wrote in an e-mail to Channel 2.

She says as far as she knows, no immediate action was taken within the Alaska State Legislature, following her spring-time letter.

"I wrote the letter, gave Rep. Tuck a hard copy, and never heard from him again," she told Channel 2. She says she doesn't know if the letter was passed on to the House Speaker, or if the issue was addressed with Rep. Westlake.

KTUU reached out to House Majority Leader, Rep. Tuck, who says he is not allowed to share any details regarding the investigation.

"Unfortunately, I cannot contribute to the public clarity on that issue," Tuck said. "I'm sorry I can't reveal more, but for protections of future complainants that is the way our policy – that's actually the way the law is, and that's the way our policy is."

According to Rep. Tuck, the policy currently prevents anyone, except the complainant, from sharing details about the investigation and its conclusion.

"Not even the defendant can speak out on matters of this nature, because it's a personnel issue," clarifies Tuck. "But the case law has demonstrated that even the defendant speaking out in their own defense – even if they're exonerated – may prevent other people from stepping forward and filing a claim," Tuck said.

Rep. Westlake also released an official statement explaining why he cannot comment on the allegations made against him.

"I can’t discuss the recent allegations made against me, because it is a confidential personnel matter," said Rep. Westlake. "I firmly believe that everyone deserves a safe, healthy and professional working environment. I sincerely apologize if an encounter with me has made anyone uncomfortable. That has certainly never been my intent. I welcome both the review and update to the legislature’s sexual harassment policies, as well as new training for members and staff."

Wednesday, the House Legislature announced that mandatory training will be conducted during the first week of the upcoming legislative session, beginning on Jan. 16, 2018. The training will be conducted by Alaska Human Rights Commission expert trainers, according to Alaska House Majority Coalition Press Secretary Mike Mason.

In a Dec. 6 press release, Speaker Edgmon is quoted, saying the alleged incident "illustrates the need for concrete and clear reporting policies and mandatory sexual harassment training for every legislator and staff member."

Edgmon also urges other victims of sexual harassment, assault or aggravation to come forward.

"Our priority is to ensure a safe and respectful work environment where no one feels threatened," he wrote in a press release. "We want them (victims) to feel confident that their personnel matters will remain confidential and private, and that the Legislature will listen and follow through."

In November, six state lawmakers were selected for the new Sexual and Other Workplace Harassment Policy Subcommittee. The subcommittee is made up of four women and two men.

This subcommittee is tasked with reviewing and recommending updates to Alaska State Legislature's harassment policies.


Letter detailing Rep. Dean Westlake's 2017 sexual harassment, written by victim Olivia.


 
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