Training is ‘first step’ for problem
Sexual harassment pervasive issue, say House members.
First came the flood of social-media posts from former and current congressional employees who were sexually harassed on the job. Then came more than 1,500 names of former congressio- nal staffers urging Congress to fix the problem.
Now, members of Congress are acknowledging they have colleagues who have engaged in lewd behavior, publicly coming to terms with sexual harassment as a pervasive problem on Capi- tol Hill. At a Tuesday hearing, lawmakers aired tantalizing details, albeit without naming names, of unwanted sexual comments and advances taking place in their midst.
“This is about a member, who is here now. I don’t know who it is, but somebody who I trust told me this situation,” Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., said at the hear- ing on sexual harassment.
The male member tricked a young female staffer into meeting him at his residence, Comstock said. When the staffer arrived, he greeted her in a towel, then exposed himself, she said. The staffer left the house and subsequently quit her Hill job, she said. There’s more. Harassers have proposi- tioned themselves to staff members by asking: “Are you going to be a good girl?” Some have exposed their genitals to victims. Others have grabbed victims by their private parts on the House floor, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said.
“In fact, there are two members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, right now, who serve, who have not been subject to review but have engaged in sexual harassment,” said Speier, who has been pushing for years to make anti-harassment training a requirement.
Speier said her office has been “inundated” with calls and meetings with former and current staff members, both female and male, who have been subjected to inap- propriate and possibly illegal sexual advances. These calls came after Speier, who has publicly described being forc- ibly kissed by a then-chief of staff when she was a congressional employee, launched a #MeTooCongress campaign to draw attention to sexual harassment on the Hill.
Members of the commit- tee that oversees daily oper- ations in the House acknowl- edged the problem at Tues- day’s hearing and called on anti-harassment training for all employees as a necessary first step to improving work- place conditions in Congress.