House lawmakers hold hearing on sexual harassment in Congress

Frederick Owens
November 15, 2017

Last month, Rep. Speier publicly shared her story of being sexually harassed by the chief of staff in her office when she was a staffer. "At that point, he chose to expose himself", Comstock said.

Since then, Speier said her office has received calls from a multitude of current and former Capitol Hill staffers sharing their experiences of sexual harassment.

"In fact, there are two members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, right now, who serve, who have been subject to review or not have been subject to review, but have engaged in sexual harassment", Speier said in remarks during a House Administration committee hearing on Capitol Hill harassment policies.

Speier, a Democrat who has gone public with her own allegations of sexual assault while she served as a Hill aide decades ago, testified before the panel Tuesday that two now sitting members of Congress - one Democrat, one Republican - have "engaged in sexual harassment" but have not yet been reviewed. And a young staffer ― it was a young woman ― went there and was greeted with a member in a towel.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (D-Va.) said the U.S. House should consider a prohibition on members of Congress having sexual relationships with their own staffers. "She left and then she quit her job", Comstock told the committee. "They want the system fixed, and the perpetrators held accountable".

"Our goal is not only to raise awareness, but also make abundantly clear that harassment in any form has no place in this institution", Ryan said in the statement.

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"What are we doing for women right now who are dealing with somebody like that?" she asked.

Both House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky support ramping up sexual harassment training, as does House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.

Office of Compliance staff who testified before the committee said mandatory in-person training would be a good first step toward preventing harassment.

Interns and fellows do not have access to the process, she noted.

"Many of us in Congress know what it's like, because Congress has been a breeding ground for a hostile work environment for far too long", she said in an October video encouraging other staffers to tell their stories.

The hearing called attention to the incredibly convoluted process a staffer must undergo to report an incident to the congressional Office of Compliance. If a member of Congress has been accused, they receive a House lawyer to represent them for free while the accuser does not receive free counsel.

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