Speier says current lawmakers have sexually harassed staffers
WASHINGTON — Two current lawmakers allegedly have sexually harassed congressional staff in the past. And a former staffer reportedly asked to deliver papers to a member’s home was greeted by him wearing only a towel.
That’s what California Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier and Republican Barbara Comstock of Virginia recounted during a hearing by the House Administration Committee on sexual harassment Tuesday.
Such allegations are rare. Members of Congress seldom criticize colleagues for misconduct, especially when the allegation is sexual harassment. The accounts from Speier and Comstock are among dozens detailing a hostile and predatory environment for female staffers that have emerged after accusations targeting Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein seemingly broke through a conspiracy of silence pervasive in many of the nation’s most respected and influential institutions.
Accusations involving current and former members of Congress and staff have reinvigorated efforts to provide more protections for victims on the Hill. But so far, no prominent lawmakers have been named.
“I have had numerous meetings and phone calls with staff members both present and former, women and men who have been subjected to this inexcusable and often times illegal behavior,” said Speier, who testified at the hearing and questioned witnesses.
Speier said there are two members of Congress, a Republican and a Democrat, “who have engaged in sexual harassment.”
“These harassers (made) propositions such as “Are you going to be a good girl?” Speier said. She also spoke of “perpetrators exposing their genitals, to victims having their private parts grabbed on the House floor.”
All staffers want, she said, “is to be able to work in a hostile-free work environment.”
Comstock recalled being told that the member who greeted the former staffer in a towel then invited her into the house and exposed himself to her.
She said she did not know who the member was, but does know that he is still serving in Congress. The Virginia Republican suggested that congressional offices need an explicit harassment policy outlining the relationship between members and their staffs.
“We really don’t have current guidelines right now that tell a member that a sexual relationship with a 19-year-old intern is off limits,” Comstock said. “I haven’t seen that in any materials.”
Gloria Lett, with the Office of House Employment Counsel, told the committee that only the House code of conduct broadly addresses the sexual conduct of members.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco) in a December 2014 interview.