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No Regrets: Alaina Hampton On Life After Speaking Out

Chicago Tonight
Alaina Hampton, right, detailed her harassment complaint at a news conference in March 2018.

The woman who blew the whistle on Michael Madigan's silence in her #MeToo case is still searching for a job and closure.

Alaina Hampton says she is finally starting to heal emotionally, but she still wishes she could afford therapy. And she’s struggling to find work.

In case you’ve somehow missed the biggest #MeToo issue to hit Illinois, Hampton is the former political staffer who accused Kevin Quinn, a top aide to House Speaker and Democratic Party of Illinois chairman  Michael Madigan, of sexual harassment after he allegedly sent a barrage of sexually harassing text messages. After not receiving much of a reply from Madigan or his political staff, she quit, went public, and sued for retaliation.

Hampton grew up downstate near Springfield and moved to Chicago for her first job. A child in a family of lifelong Republicans, Hampton started her career as a staffer for the Democratic Party of Illinois.

Soon, the then-23-year-old campaign staffer began working on underserved, low-income communities. She said she hoped by working to get good people elected she would be able to help improve the circumstances of those communities.

“I'm a political consultant,” she said. “But ever since all of my story became public, it has been obviously very difficult to get work. I spent a lot of time last year traveling and taking care of my mental and emotional health. And now, with campaign season starting, I might do a little bit of political work again, but I also bartend.”

Credit Alaina Hampton
Alaina Hampton's recent travels have included the Sahara Desert near Aswan, Egypt.

Hampton says she tried to be loyal and keep a job she loved — and because of that, she spent months lying. She told others she quit the organization and was ready to move on. The 30-year-old Chicagoan says she felt a bit of relief after going public with her story about why she left. But that didn’t stop the pain.

“I really lost a sense of my identity because I spent many years working for that organization, and your career kind of defines you in a way. And that was taken from me. I didn't lose it, it was stolen from me,” she said.

Hampton is suing the Democratic Party of Illinois and Madigan’s campaign fund. The party declined to comment on her case, but says Madigan has acknowledged “not doing enough in the past to change the culture.” It also says he’s working with women to create “an environment free of harassment, discrimination or intimidation.”

Hampton worked in 2016 on the 5th district campaign in which now-Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton was elected. The district runs from Chicago’s downtown to the South Side. But she says after she brought her complaint to Madigan, her requests to work on the race the following cycle came to no avail. Rep. Lamont Robinson eventually won the seat. Since 2018, she says, her work has been limited to a municipal race and a special election in a North Carolina congressional campaign.

Meanwhile, Hampton says, through last year she continued to suffer through the anxiety attacks that began with the harassment. She says she feared being at home in Chicago, and traveled. But the lack of work has caused her to drain to much of her savings.

Joanna Klonsky, a communications strategist for groups working on progressive issues, said it's clear why some people won't hire Hampton.

“There are a number of people in the Democratic political world who are nervous to be seen as too close to her ... lest they be seen as disloyal the Democratic Party apparatus, in some way,’’ Klonsky said.

“I think that people have had to make a very difficult decision, whether to take the risk of working with someone who has been a whistleblower,’’ she said. “I think there's a lot of pressure, whether explicit or tacit, to stay away from her. And it's certainly taken a toll on her career, that's apparent, despite the fact that she's incredibly talented, she's incredibly driven and hardworking and smart. … But they're very wary of potential political repercussions for their campaigns.”

Credit Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois
NPR Illinois
House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is also chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, speaks at a news conference unrelated to the Hampton case.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown declined to comment for this story, citing the lawsuit. He also referred questions to the Democrat Party of Illinois. But when the lawsuit was filed in March 2018, Brown told the Chicago Tribune, “I can assure you that the Democratic Party of Illinois and the Friends of MJM (Michael J. Madigan) have not retaliated against Ms. Hampton in any way.”

Hampton says her politics have moved left as time passed, and she identifies as a progressive Democrat now. In the March 2018 primary, she worked for losing progressive candidate Marie Newman in the Chicago-area 3rd congressional district. Her opponent was U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, a centrist, Madigan-backed incumbent. Newman is running again, and this week was endorsed by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York and progressive icon.

It’s unclear whether the decision to work for Newman also influenced other Democrats to shun Hampton.

Hampton says for a time she felt as though she was defined “as the girl that's suing Mike Madigan or the woman who was sexually harassed by a Madigan aide.” She struggled with worry that she was somehow viewed as disloyal despite having often worked 80 to 100 hours a week for the party. Now, she says, “They were disloyal to me.”

Other Democrats who worked with Hampton on past campaigns, such as Bridget Degnan, who won her 2017 race for Cook County Board, praised her.

“Alaina in particular was responsible, I would say, for getting me elected,” Degnan said. “Where a hole needed to be filled, she jumped in and filled it. And she did an excellent job. So I mean … one of the reasons why I'm in elective office right now is because of her support on that campaign.

“She was a grinder at the end of the day. When you are working on a campaign, especially with a person that's new, that's never run for public office before, you really need somebody who's going to execute and, and she does,” Degnan said.

Hampton said her sense of identity loss continued as her story became public. “And now I feel like I need to take my identity back and, and become who I am meant to be now, and whether that's being an advocate for women who have suffered similar experiences to mine or being someone that people can relate to because they've experienced it,’’ she said.

She wants to start an organization that would help pay costs of mental health treatment for women who’ve experienced sexual harassment or to help them find new work, if needed.

“I'm sure most women in their lifetime have experienced harassment or assault at some sort of level. And women carry this trauma with them their entire lives. And I think it's just something that needs to be addressed,’’ Hampton said. “And now that I feel like there's enough time that has passed and I have been working on my emotional and mental health. I feel like I'm in a place where I can start talking about it.”

She says she has survived the situation because she’s thick-skinned and strong.

“I’ve  never second-guessed my decision.” Hampton sais. “I would do it all over again, because I know that the impact it has made has prevented it from happening to other people.”

A clarification: Before this story was written, Hampton explained in an email that her inability to get therapy is compounded because "therapy notes are discoverable in my lawsuit, I feel fear seeing a therapist because the notes can be subpoenaed.''

Also, Carrie Ward, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, says 30 rape crisis centers throughout the state, including three in the Chicago region, offer up to 10 free counseling sessions. Some charge a fee after 10 sessions. Many have a sliding scale for additional sessions.

Here's the full statement of the Democratic Party of Illinois:

“The Democratic Party of Illinois has implemented significant changes to strengthen policies and reporting procedures for staff and volunteers. The Party has taken many steps to improve the culture, including hiring a full-time executive director, instituting mandatory training on harassment, intimidation, and other important workplace protections, and creating strong mechanisms to report workplace complaints. The Party retains an outside counsel who is available to help those who want to file a complaint or get more information about the policies and procedures of the Party. 

“Chairman Madigan has acknowledged not doing enough in the past to change the culture and is working together with staff and elected officials, including the House Democratic Women’s Caucus, to lead an effort to ensure an environment free of harassment, discrimination or intimidation.

“Chairman Madigan values dedicated staff members and volunteers, and their innumerable contributions to advancing the goals of the Democratic Party, and is actively listening to them to bring about real and lasting change for the Party. To truly see a change in culture, it is critical that all campaigns - no matter the party - make similar changes and improvements.”

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is news editor and equity and justice beat reporter for NPR Illinois, where she has been on the staff since 2014 after Illinois Issues magazine’s merger with the station. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1998 as projects editor and became managing editor in 2003. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, she was an education reporter and copy editor at three local newspapers, including the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in English from UIS.
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