Congress takes steps to address and prevent sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill
In the wake of several high-profile sexual harassment allegations -- from Hollywood to the media -- Congress is taking a look at its own policies to prevent sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill.
“There is no place for sexual harassment in our society, period, and especially in the Congress,” said Chairman Gregg Harper, R-Miss.
California Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., appeared before the House Administration Committee to discuss ways to prevent harassment on the Hill. She told lawmakers she has heard of two sitting members of Congress who have engaged in sexual harassment.
“These harassment propositions, such as, ‘Are you going to be a good girl?’ to perpetrators exposing their genitals, to victims having their private parts grabbed on the House floor,” said Speier.
Speier recently revealed in her #MeToo video that she was assaulted by a chief of staff when she was a young congressional aide in the 1970s. Speier says after she shared her story, more people started telling their experiences to her. However, she adds many don’t come forward because of fear of retaliation.
“There is zero accountability and zero transparency,” she said. “It’s really no wonder that staffers do not seek this process at all.”
In her opening statement, Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., told a story about a young female congressional staffer who was asked by a member to bring materials to his home. When she arrived, the lawmaker opened the door in a towel and then exposed himself.
Comstock said after the incident, the staffer quit her job. Comstock did not name the member but acknowledged he is still in Congress.
“But that kind of situation -- what are we doing here, for women right now who are dealing with somebody like that?” said Comstock.
Lawmakers have held hearings in the past that stemmed from sexual harassment allegations, from Justice Clarence Thomas to former President Bill Clinton.
But why has it taken so long for Congress to reform its own system?
“I don’t know the how come,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif. She said when she first got to Congress she says a male colleague repeatedly harassed her.
“I think the sort of floodgates have been opened,” Sanchez said. "Now, I think we’ve finally reached that turning point in our country where people are starting to take complaints seriously.”
Following the hearing, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., ordered mandatory sexual harassment and discrimination training for every House member and staff.
“Our goal is not only to raise awareness, but also make abundantly clear that harassment in any form has no place in this institution,” said Ryan.