Speier calls 2 in Congress ha­rassers

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - NEWS - By Carolyn Lochhead

WASHINGTON — Rep. Jackie Speier, the Penin­sula Demo­crat who last month be­came the first mem­ber of Congress to go pub­lic with her own ex­pe­ri­ence of sex­ual as­sault on Capi­tol Hill, tes­ti­fied Tues­day that she knows of two sit­ting mem­bers of Congress who have sex­u­ally ha­rassed staffers.

Speak­ing to the House Ad­min­is­tra­tion Com­mit­tee at a hear­ing on Congress’ sex­ual ha­rass­ment poli­cies, Speier said she could not name the mem­bers, one of them a Demo­crat and the other a Repub­li­can, be­cause the cases are sub­ject to nondis­clo­sure agree­ments. But she said one in­ci­dent in­volved gen­i­tal expo-

sure and the other in­volved grab­bing a vic­tim on the House floor.

She told the com­mit­tee that Congress needs to over­haul its sys­tem for treat­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment claims and im­pose manda­tory train­ing for all House mem­bers and staff. A few hours later, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., adopted part of her pro­posal, uni­lat­er­ally man­dat­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment train­ing “go­ing for­ward” for all House mem­bers and staff.

Last month, Speier, D-Hills­bor­ough, used a YouTube video to dis­close that she had been a vic­tim of sex­ual as­sault as a young con­gres­sional aide in the 1970s and started a cam­paign, #MeTooCongress, to en­cour­age other vic­tims on Capi­tol Hill to go pub­lic with their sto­ries of sex­ual as­sault or ha­rass­ment.

Since then, she said she’s heard from many vic­tims on the Hill who are afraid that speak­ing out will ruin their ca­reers. One of them, she said, told her last week, “I’m a sin­gle mother. I can’t af­ford to lose my job.”

Speier said vic­tims fear “be­ing black­balled in this in­sti­tu­tion and be­ing sub­ject to reprisals.”

“All they ask in re­turn as staff mem­bers is to be able to work in a hos­tile-free en­vi­ron­ment,” Speier tes­ti­fied. “They want the sys­tem fixed, and the per­pe­tra­tors held ac­count­able.”

Rep. Bar­bara Com­stock, R-Va., who sits on the com­mit­tee, said she was also told by a trusted source that a sit­ting mem­ber of Congress, a male whose name she did not know, had di­rected a young woman on his staff to de­liver some­thing to his home. He greeted her there wear­ing only a towel, in­vited her in and ex­posed him­self, Com­stock said.

“She left and then quit her job,” she said.

When Speier made a sim­i­lar ef­fort three years ago to in­sti­tute sex­ual ha­rass­ment train­ing for Congress, House lead­ers quashed it. Now she has bi­par­ti­san sup­port from Democrats and Repub­li­cans, in­clud­ing Repub­li­can Gregg Harper of Mis­sis­sippi, chair­man of the Ad­min­is­tra­tion Com­mit­tee, which over­sees House oper­a­tions and man­age­ment.

Harper said he wants to strengthen Speier’s leg­is­la­tion to en­sure that in­di­vid­ual mem­bers, not tax­pay­ers, pay set­tle­ments aris­ing from ha­rass­ment charges against mem­bers.

The Se­nate took a ma­jor step last week in ad­dress­ing the is­sue, unan­i­mously ap­prov­ing leg­is­la­tion to re­quire sex­ual ha­rass­ment train­ing for its mem­bers and staff.

The ques­tion now is whether Congress as a whole will over­haul a process for re­port­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment claims — cre­ated by the 1995 Con­gres­sional Ac­count­abil­ity Act — that pro­vides tax­payer-funded le­gal coun­sel to the al­leged per­pe­tra­tor, re­quires vic­tims to en­ter me­di­a­tion with the per­son they’re ac­cus­ing, forces them to wait three months be­fore lodg­ing a for­mal com­plaint, and re­quires nondis­clo­sure agree­ments to en­sure that the charge never be­comes pub­lic.

Even those pro­ce­dures are not avail­able to in­terns or fel­lows work­ing on the Hill, of­ten as teenagers or young adults work­ing non­pay­ing po­si­tions.

The sys­tem also re­quires tax­pay­ers to pay any set­tle­ments. A Washington Post in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that be­tween 1997 and 2014, the U.S. Trea­sury paid $15.2 mil­lion in 235 awards and set­tle­ments for work­place vi­o­la­tions on the Hill. Speier’s bill would dis­close the set­tle­ments and name the con­gres­sional of­fice in­volved.

No date has been set for con­sid­er­a­tion of Speier’s bill or oth­ers that have been pro­posed to over­haul the re­port­ing sys­tem. Ryan has in­stead di­rected the Ad­min­is­tra­tion Com­mit­tee and the Rules and Ethics Com­mit­tee to re­view how the House han­dles sex­ual ha­rass­ment claims.

Af­ter Tues­day’s hear­ing, Harper told re­porters that amend­ing the ac­count­abil­ity act “is go­ing to take a lit­tle bit of time,” but said the rash of al­le­ga­tions in­side Congress has made its elected mem­bers and staff “much more cog­nizant of what is ac­cept­able and un­ac­cept­able.”

“When you're in a po­si­tion of power, you can­not un­der any cir­cum­stance take ad­van­tage of some­one on your staff,” Harper said.

On Mon­day, more than 1,500 for­mer con­gres­sional staffers signed a let­ter urg­ing both train­ing and re­form of the Con­gres­sional Ac­count­abil­ity Act. The let­ter cited a sur­vey last year that found 40 per­cent of the women who re­sponded thought sex­ual ha­rass­ment was a prob­lem on Capi­tol Hill, and that 1 in 6 re­ported be­ing a vic­tim of sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

Tues­day’s hear­ing came amid a firestorm over al­le­ga­tions that Roy Moore, a Repub­li­can can­di­date for Se­nate from Alabama, en­gaged in sex­ual mis­con­duct, in­clud­ing pos­si­ble as­sault, with five teenagers when he was an as­sis­tant dis­trict at­tor­ney in his 30s.

Since Speier went pub­lic with her story, sev­eral me­dia out­lets have con­ducted ex­ten­sive in­ter­views with con­gres­sional staff, un­cov­er­ing what some de­scribed as a “Wild West” cul­ture of sex­ual pre­da­tion. Rep. Bradley Byrne, an Alabama Repub­li­can who had a long ca­reer in cor­po­rate hu­man re­sources and tes­ti­fied with Speier, said Congress cur­rently has none of the train­ing, in­ves­tiga­tive or dis­ci­plinary pro­ce­dures now com­mon­place in the cor­po­rate world.

Ni­cholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hills­bor­ough, speaks at a hear­ing in Congress on sex­ual ha­rass­ment. She wants cur­rent rules changed so ha­rassers are held more re­spon­si­ble.

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