Item: A married woman who works in a federal office not far from the White House was asked to work overtime on a Saturday. She and her husband have several children and needed the money. She agreed.
According to the woman, she was attacked and raped by her boss in the nearly empty building.The boss then told her to keep quiet. Otherwise, he said he would have her fired and tell her husband they had been having an affair for some time.
The woman, terrified of her husband's reaction, fearful for her job and ashamed, did nothing. Sometime later her doctor advised her she had contracted a veneral disease. What now?
Item: Several women working for a Defense Department contractor here complained that a few military officers on the job had made heavy-handed, put-out-or-get-out overtures. When they told their boss, they said, he told them to "play along." He wasn't going to risk losing a valuable contract for something they probably imagined, or probably encouraged. What now?
Those two stories may or may not be true. But they are the sort of thing women sometimes complain about, usually in private. Sometimes they call newspapers, or women's groups, about sexual harassment. But telling those stories isn't easy. Many are afraid of losing their jobs, husbands or boyfriends with little prospect of getting justice.
Acting on published and televised reports about complaints of sexual harassment at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a team of congressional investigators is now interviewing women there and in other agencies.
The HUD women, who answered a sexual harassment questionnaire from an unofficial, in-house newsletter, (reported here July 31) said promotions and pay raises often hinged on going to bed with the boss. HUD said there had not been a single complaint through official channels.
Acting on those reports, Chairman James M. Hanley (D-N.Y.) has told his House investigators subcommittee to find out the extent of sexual harassment in government, and do something about it. Investigators have already talked with several women -- and fully cooperative officials at HUD -- and now plans to go into other agencies and departments. They hope to come up with a questionnaire women can answer, and to give them legal promises they will be protected from reprisals by the government or their individual bosses.
Hanley promises that the complaints will be handled with discretion, that women will be protected and that there will be follow-up.
Rosemary Storey from the House Post Office - Civil Service Committee (225-4054) has been assigned to take complaints. She will pass them on to investigators.
If the problem is as serious as many believe, that could be a very busy telephone number over the next few months, and this could be a very hot summer for some bosses who like to play games with their employes, using the taxpayers' money.