Journalists In Russia Told to 'Change Jobs' After Reporting Sexual Harassment in Parliament

Three female journalists have accused a high-profile Russian lawmaker of harassment, exposing a pervasive skepticism in the country toward allegations of sexual impropriety.

According to Russian daily newspaper Vedomostithe house speaker responded by telling the reporters that if they felt unsafe in parliament, they should “change jobs.”

For his part, the accused lawmaker dismissed the accusations as a foreign political conspiracy. Leonid Slutsky, who heads the Foreign Affairs Committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, brushed off three different accounts of female journalists lured by the incentive of an interview with him before he allegedly propositioned, touched or forcibly attempted to kiss them.

Related: In Russia, women are undressing in protest of the brutal murder of a girl by a scorned neighbor

The lower house speaker, Vyacheslav Volodin, stressed that Slutsky should be presumed innocent.

"Is it dangerous for you to work in the Duma?” Volodin asked, referring to the lower house’s colloquial name. “If so, then change jobs.”

He also questioned the timing of the accusations, which were made in the runup to Russian elections this month.

“In the context of the pre-election campaign, representatives of the BBC, my beloved Dozhd and Georgian television have spoken about harassment,” he said. “Politics is for politicians and that is why we will tackle these matters but there are two sides there and what if, within the framework of legal proceedings, it emerges that this is provocation?”

The BBC Russian Service's Farida Rustamova, Georgian TV channel RTVI’s deputy editor Yekaterina Kotrikadze and Russian channel Dozhd’s producer Daria Zhuk have all gone on the record to describe similar encounters with Slutsky. The BBC has published a transcript of a recording, which it reported Rustamova made during the encounter last year when she believed she was meeting Slutsky to ask him about the French elections. Over the course of the conversation, the lawmaker is quoted as offering Rustamova a job, then asking her to become his “mistress” before she accused him of groping her.

03_07_Volodin Russian President Vladimir Putin (C), accompanied by Valentina Matvienko (L), the chairwoman of the Federation Council, and Vyacheslav Volodin (R), the speaker in the State Duma, meets with top officials from the both houses of Russia's parliament at the Kremlin on December 25, 2017. Alexey Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images

"I don't feel people up,” the recording purportedly cites Slutsky as saying. “Well, OK, just a little. 'Feel people up' is an ugly expression." Slutsky has not commented on the BBC report but has generally dismissed what he claims are false attempts to paint him as “a Russian Harvey Weinstein.”

Kotrikadze alleges a similar and arguably more disturbing encounter with Slutsky in his office seven years ago, when she said he asked her to come without TV cameras.

“He brought me into his office, locked the door and tried to pin me against the wall and somehow kiss and touch me,” she told RTVI live on air. “I got away and ran.”

Darya Zhukova told her Dozhd network that she was disturbed by Slutsky’s behavior when he had been booked as a guest on the channel in 2014. Before going live, Zhukova said, he allegedly said would refuse to cooperate unless she went for a meal with him, before trying “rudely and persistently” to kiss her.

The Dozhd producer said she has now filed an official complaint with the parliament Ethics Committee and hopes justice is served.

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