Updated (12:45 p.m.): State Ethics Commission releases Souki sexual harassment report
A Hawaii State Ethics Commission report says longtime Wailuku state Rep. Joe Souki admitted, as “facts,” that while he served as speaker of the House he touched and kissed more than one woman “in ways that were inappropriate and unwelcome.”
Souki, first elected to the House in 1982, released a written apology today. He has responded to allegations of Rachael Wong, the former head of Hawaii’s Department of Human Services, that he “kissed a woman on the cheek” as he had with other women many times before.
But the commission’s resolution of investigation, dated March 16 and released today, reports that Souki’s conduct went beyond that and that he acknowledges it.
“He admits that this physical contact exceeded the boundaries of the customary ‘aloha kiss,’ “ says the commission’s report says. “Respondent Souki further admits that he made sexual comments, including comments on physical appearance of more than one woman that were inappropriate and unwanted.”
The commission’s resolution of Wong’s complaint calls for Souki to resign his House seat no later than March 30. He’s required to issue a public apology and to pay an administrative penalty of $5,000. Souki, 86, was required to agree not to seek or accept any public office for at least two years.
“The commission believes it is fair, reasonable and in the public interest to resolve this matter without further administrative action,” the report says.
In his statement today, Souki writes that “I apologize to the women that believe I treated them in any unwanted and inappropriate manner.
He also says that he has learned that certain women have complained to the Ethics Commission, “accusing me on inappropriate and unwelcome conduct.
“That included ‘touching’ and ‘kissing’ more than one woman inappropriately,” Souki said. “I am told that the conduct complained of occurred between three and eight years ago. I have absolutely no memory of ever acting inappropriately with any women at any time, as a member of the House or in a private setting. I am greatly saddened that something I did was misunderstood and believed to be inappropriate conduct.”
Souki submitted his resignation, effective March 30. “I have made the difficult decision to avoid a media circus by stepping down without a public confrontation with my accusers. I do not intend to have my wife and family agonize through public hearings before the Ethics Committee or elsewhere. I do not want my colleagues in the Legislature to waste their valuable time in deciding where the truth lies, and what sanctions against me, if any, are appropriate. I will not force my accusers to be examined publicly by my attorney or others about what they perceived as my wrongful conduct,” he said.
the report says.
In a statement released today, Wong said: “This is a day of closure for me and many other women, and it also marks the beginning of a transformation that many have said is long overdue. The hundreds of messages I’ve received reinforce the need for positive, substantive change in Hawaii.”
She connected her case with the #MeToo movement, which began as a hashtag used on social media to demonstrate the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment.
“Our culture often prevents us from speaking out when there is injustice, and we are taught not to put others to shame since we live in a small community,” Wong said. “These are some of the very reasons many suffer in silence for years, and things stay the same. It is time for a new way of doing things in Hawaii, and I am hopeful because of what is possible.”