Several men accuse state Senate president's husband of sexual misconduct

  • Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst


Associated Press
Friday, December 01, 2017

BOSTON — Democratic Senate President Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst said Thursday he was taking seriously a report that his husband sexually assaulted and harassed several men, including some with business before the Legislature.

The Boston Globe reported it spoke with four men who said Bryon Hefner sexually assaulted and harassed them over the past few years.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker called for an investigation into the allegations, which he said were “disturbing” and “distressing” and said he felt for those who described their experiences. He did not call for Rosenberg to resign.

The Gazette attempted to contact Rosenberg on Thursday, and his office released the following statement on his behalf:

“This is the first I have heard about these claims. Even though, based on what little I have been told, these allegations do not involve members or employees of the Senate and did not occur in the State House, I take them seriously,” the statement reads. “To the best of my recollection I was not approached by anyone with complaints during or after the alleged incidents made in this article or I would have tried to intervene.”

A spokesman said Rosenberg would not have any additional comment Thursday.

Three of the men told the Globe that Hefner grabbed their genitals and one said Hefner kissed him against his will. The Globe said it found no evidence Rosenberg knew about the alleged assaults.

The Globe said the four men felt powerless to report the incidents because they feared alienating Rosenberg, believing Hefner had tremendous sway with the Senate leader. The paper said it granted the four men anonymity because they must still work with Rosenberg, and interact with Hefner.

One of the men, described as a policy advocate, said that in 2015 Hefner — then Rosenberg’s fiancé — appeared at his door, stepped forward and grabbed his genitals and said that he and the Senate president were a team on Beacon Hill, and that they would take care of him. The man said he froze and felt powerless — recalling times when Hefner boasted of his influence with Rosenberg.

The man said he was able to overcome his shock, and asked Hefner to leave.

Hefner said in a statement to the Globe through his lawyer that he was “shocked to learn of these anonymous and hurtful allegations.”

“To my knowledge, no one has complained to me or any political or governmental authority about these allegations which are now surfacing years afterward,” Hefner, 30, said in the statement. “As one can imagine, it is incredibly difficult to respond to allegations by unnamed and unidentified individuals that involve an extended period of time, particularly in the current environment.”

Rosenberg, 68, a state senator since 1991, assumed the top leadership post in January 2015. He is the first openly gay leader of either legislative chamber in Massachusetts.

Shortly before his election as president, Rosenberg responded to reports that Hefner, his then domestic partner, had used social media to boast of his influence in Senate affairs.

In a December 2014 letter to 33 Democratic senators, Rosenberg vowed to create a “firewall” between his personal and professional life.

‘Zero tolerance policy’

Rosenberg has strongly defended what he calls the Senate’s “zero tolerance policy” for sexual harassment in recent weeks amid a wave of high-profile cases around the country.

He has told reporters that he was aware of two incidents since becoming the Senate leader, and that both had been resolved to the satisfaction of the victims. One, he said, involved allegations of misconduct by a legislative intern who no longer works for the Senate, and the other was a complaint by a Senate staffer directed at a person who did not work at the Statehouse.

While declaring the current policy to be effective, Rosenberg has said he was open to improvements.

In speaking with the Gazette on Wednesday, before the Globe story was published, Rosenberg described the process in place to handle allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct that occurred in the Senate or involved senators, staff or others doing business with the Senate.

Complaints are handled by one of three women: his chief of staff, the Senate counsel or its director of human services. Because most complaints are made by women, Rosenberg said, this reassures them that such allegations are taken seriously.

Rosenberg also said he has asked for a review of the Senate’s harassment policies to make sure that they are up to date. Senate Majority Leader Harriette L. Chandler, D-Worcester, will head a group reviewing those policies.

“There’s room for improvement and if they find things, we’ll take them seriously and make changes,” Rosenberg said Wednesday.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, said Thursday he was teaming up with Chandler to develop a structure and process for an investigation into the allegations against Hefner.

Rosenberg later released a statement supporting “the call for an independent investigation of the serious allegations,” and said he would recuse himself from any matters related to the investigation.

Rosenberg and Hefner were married at a private ceremony last September after living together for several years.

Rosenberg was raised by foster parents and has said the fact that Hefner also was in the state’s foster care system as a child contributed to the bond between the two men.

Staff writer Bera Dunau contributed to this story.