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House Addresses Sexual Harassment Problems on Capitol Hill
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Capitol Hill

Summary: Congress has been discussing sexual harassment matters in the Capitol with the House holding a hearing on the matter.

Women will not be silent anymore or at least that is the message they are sending through sexual misconduct allegations across just about every industry. California Rep. Jackie Speier and Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock came forward today to discuss the issue of sexual harassment and misconduct that they have either witnessed, been subjected to or been told about by other lawmakers and aides.

  
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While the women did not name names, they claim that there are at least two male lawmakers that they are aware of sit serving in Congress. One of them allegedly exposed themselves to a female aide who was delivering materials to his home.

The women discussed the lack of punishment for those who do cross the line and sexual harassment training on Capitol Hill to prevent further harassment from occurring. Speier, a Democrat, has publicly talked about her experience with sexual assault when she was a Hill aide several years ago. She is proposing legislation that will change the House’s policy plus make sexual harassment training mandatory for members and staff. She told the panel that she has heard of “victims having their private parts grabbed on the House floor.”

The hearing to review sexual harassment policies included several accounts from young female aides. One such aide was told to deliver materials to a male member of Congress at his home. When she arrived at his residence, he answered the door in a towel and proceeded to expose his genitals to the woman, according to Comstock. The woman quit her job while the man went about his business and is still in office. Comstock said, “She left, she found another job. But that kind of situation – what are we doing here for women right now who are dealing with somebody like that?”

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Over 1,500 former Hill staffers have signed a letter calling for reform on the way Congress handles sexual harassment allegations. There is no requirement right now for sexual harassment training but individual offices can choose to hold their own training sessions provided by the Office of Compliance. The Senate agreed last week to make sexual harassment training mandatory for all of those involved in the Senate – staffers, interns, and lawmakers.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi fully support increasing sexual harassment training. Ryan urged House members to improve their training earlier this month. He said in a letter, “I strongly encourage you to complete sexual harassment training and to mandate the training for your staff. We can and should lead by example. Our goal must be a culture where everyone who works in our offices feels safe and able to fulfill their duties.”



The hearing also discussed the long-term effects of sexual harassment and misconduct on the Hill. Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis expressed the concern his female staffers are expressing that “some offices might take a shortcut and not hire women as a way to avoid these issues.” He said, “Obviously, that’s not the right approach.”

The biggest issue for those concerned with sexual harassment claims is in how the allegations are handled. Speier said, “If someone wants to form a complaint they have to go through a month of legal counseling. …Then they go through mediation. And then they have to go through a one-month ‘cooling off’ period, all the whole they are still required to work in that office that was a hostile work environment. By the way … the general counsel of the House is representing the harasser. The victim has no counsel, no support.”

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has proposed a bill that will streamline the reporting process to the Office of Compliance. Chair of the office’s board of directors, Barbara Childs Wallace, agrees that changes need to be made but there is one big change that everyone seems to overlook. She said, “Leadership within each office is also important, and letting the employees know where they can go to complain is vitally important but mandatory training is one very important component of trying to stop this.”

Do you think the leadership of each individual office is a big part of how sexual harassment is handled? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

To learn more about sexual harassment allegations against politicians, read these articles:

Photo: flickr.com



 

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