Burlington city councilor accused of sexual assault
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Allegations of sexual assault by a Burlington City Council member four years ago surfaced at Monday’s council meeting.
Over the weekend, an anonymous person posted an Instagram accusing City Councilor Jack Hanson, P-East, of sexual assault while he was a canvassing director with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
It comes as a group of people at Monday night’s first in-person council meeting raised the issue publicly. “We want to hold a city councilor, in particular accountable, for his actions when you do harm it comes at your doorstep or it comes to City Hall,” said Jada, who declined to give her last name.
The Instagram post said, “Despite VPIRG and Jack Hanson’s best efforts to silence me, to make me feel crazy from all this crazy-making Jack is finally being held to account for his actions. I believe he should step down from city council as people who abuse power should not be in positions of power.”
Hanson admits to the encounter but calls it a case of consensual physical intimacy. But he also says he takes the accusation seriously, saying: “I’ve worked hard to take accountability for engaging in sexual activity in a scenario in which a power dynamic existed between my coworker and myself, and I recognize how that power dynamic colored my request to not discuss the encounter broadly with other coworkers.
The anonymous post also accused VPIRG of having a culture that idolized male directors that led the accuser to believe there would be workplace repercussions if a person rejected a sexual advance.
In a statement, VPIRG said: “No complaint was made to us about the director named in the post that summer, or at any time since. If it had been made while the Director was employed at VPIRG, we would have investigated.”
VPIRG says based on other concerns unrelated to Hanson, they did change their personnel policies in 2018 to prohibit fraternization between directors and the staff they supervised.
Caroline Earle, a Montpelier attorney who deals with workplace complaints, says some employers are instituting these nonfraternization policies because of the difficult balance of the power dynamic when employees become involved in personal relationships. “Wherever you have an imbalance of power in a work relationship that becomes personal it has a real potential for problems whether those problems stray into a violation of civil law or a violation of criminal law there is always the potential for those problems and that’s why employers have to be careful and careful about their policies and how they treat that particular type of relationship,” Earle said.
Hanson says he is open to an investigation but at this point, it’s unclear who might investigate.
City Council President Max Tracy says he is looking into what actions the council might take.
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