America is currently grappling with a seemingly never-ending flood of reports, allegations, and #MeToo accounts documenting just how pervasive sexual harassment and assault is in numerous industries. As it turns out, Congress is apparently no exception to this type of predatory behavior—and a new report from The New York Times details just how bad it really is.
More than 50 lobbyists, lawyers, and former aides came forward to share their stories with the Times, describing sexual harassment as an “occupational hazard” for those in D.C. For those who try to report these incidents, they must undergo an arduous process—one that rarely works in their favor.
Per the Times:
Under federal law, complainants must undergo a confidential process,
where co-workers who might be able to provide corroborating evidence
are excluded. They often must wait about three months before
submitting an official complaint, yet must file one no later than 180
days after the episode. Once filed, victims must submit to up to 30
days of mandatory counseling and complete another 30 days of
If mediation fails, the person then must wait 30 more days before
seeking an administrative hearing or filing a lawsuit in Federal
In the case of M. Reese Everson, a one-time fellow with the Congressional Black Caucus, she was told her report of sexual harassment could not be processed by the Office of Compliance because she was a fellow and not a full-time employee, reports the Times. Other instances the newspaper reports are also incredibly dismaying: Lawyer Rebecca Weir was completely unaware that an office existed to report these kinds of incidents when former Republican Congressman Gary Miller allegedly leered at her and asked her to twirl for him one day in his California office in 2001 when she was a then-district worker. For Hannah Hudson, who worked for a Democratic congressman from Oklahoma in 2009, a work trip allegedly resulted in a Republican senior staffer trying to open her wrap dress and asking her why she was “holding out” on him.
Female legislators are not unfamiliar with facing harassment on the Hill. Three former lawmakers and one current one made allegations to the Associated Press that varied from “isolated comments at one hearing, to repeated unwanted come-ons, to lewd remarks and even groping on the House floor.”
As CNN reported on Tuesday, sexual harassment on the Hill is so prevalent that women legislators, interns, and staffers have formed a whisper network centering on a word-of-mouth “creep list” of men who act inappropriately. There’s also a series of unwritten rules when it comes to interacting with male colleagues: “Be extra careful of the male lawmakers who sleep in their offices—they can be trouble. Avoid finding yourself alone with a congressman or senator in elevators, late-night meetings or events where alcohol is flowing. And think twice before speaking out about sexual harassment from a boss—it could cost you your career.”
Fifty women spoke to CNN about sexual harassment in Congress, and one former Senate staffer described an incident from several years ago that occurred when she was riding in a “members only” elevator that lets legislators quickly reach the House or Senate floor. Her boss introduced her to a fellow legislator, and when she shook the other senator’s hand, he “stroked the inside of her palm ‘in a really gross, suggestive way'” that left her feeling “very yucky.” The woman was “shaken by how brazen the senator was to do this with his colleague standing right next to them.” The woman declined to give her name or reveal the legislator involved in the encounter, adding that she was afraid to tell her boss about the incident. Both of the men in her account are still in office.
The incident described to CNN was certainly not the first time a woman working in Congress has faced unwanted advances in an elevator. In the 1990s, reports alleged that former South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond groped Washington Sen. Patty Murray breast while riding in an elevator with her. As Politico reported in 2015, “So notoriously predatory was Thurmond that when Susan Collins came to the Senate in 1997, she was warned to avoid getting on an elevator alone with him.”
For the women coming forward to share their accounts, the goal is for the Office of Compliance to take more pointed action to handle these types of incidents. More than 1,500 former congressional aides have signed an open letter to Congress asking them to mandate sexual harassment training and reexamine how the Office of Compliance handles harassment requests. Already, the Senate has passed legislation to make sexual harassment training mandatory for all members—though the bill did not include any updates on how harassment claims are handled.
Today (Tuesday) the Committee on House Administration is expected to have a hearing on how Congress addresses sexual harassment. Here’s to hoping things move forward quickly.
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