While it’s not clear that sexual harassment is endemic on the Hill, we do recall a police report this year regarding a “sexual abuse allegation” in a House office building involving two staffers who “stated that they had sex.”
The police, apparently called by someone from a nearby office, noted in the report that, when they arrived, the woman “was visibly upset,” but “made clear . . .that she did not want police service.”
In the spring, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) successfully got an amendment added to a House appropriations bill to decrease the Capitol maintenance budget by $500,000 and use that money instead on improving congressional sexual harassment training. But that did not make it into the final “cromnibus” package.
“The American people expect us to conduct ourselves in a manner befitting the responsibilities and duties that we hold as Members of Congress — not as if we are freshmen in a frat house,” Speier said on the House floor in May. “While they are the exception, not the rule, it is an embarrassment to this institution that some Members have “sexted” teenage pages on the floor. It is unacceptable that others have groped and inappropriately touched their staff members. This behavior is illegal and unacceptable in the private sector, and it is illegal and unacceptable here.”
Speier, who has been vocal on issues of sexual assault in the military, turned her attention to congressional behavior when now-outgoing Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.) was caught kissing a staffer in his district office. She believes sexual harassment training should be mandatory for all staff and members of Congress and has a resolution that would change the House rules to make it so.
The congresswoman was not consulted or aware that the sexual harassment language was included in the “joint explanatory statement,” which acts as sort of an aside to the larger spending package.
“The language in the Cromnibus is a watered-down version of what I introduced,” she told the Loop in an e-mail. “The independent (Office of Compliance) should host these trainings, not the Chief Administrative Officer. Additionally, this training remains voluntary, for staff and members. This is a good step forward in providing resources, but is only a first step.”
The OOC is an independent agency within the legislative branch tasked with enforcing the Congressional Accountability Act, a 1995 law that made Congress comply with various workplace regulations in other laws like the Civil Rights Act and the Family Medical Leave Act.
Congressional staffers contact the OOC most about harassment/hostile work environment, according to a 2013 report. The report does not break down specific types of harassment, but it does indicate that there was an uptick in discrimination and harassment claims from 2012 to 2013.
The office has harassment trainings available, but it’s up to the discretion of the individual congressional offices to set them up. Some do, some don’t. But there’s no all-encompassing policy for congressional staffers to learn about sexual harassment. Every office is its own fiefdom.
Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office, for instance, gives out a new employee handbook that details what constitutes sexual harassment, according to an April Washington Post story. That includes, “sex-oriented verbal ‘kidding,’ ‘teasing,’ jokes, or suggestive or lewd remarks” as well as “demands for sexual favors; unwanted hugging or kissing; and displaying derogatory or pornographic posters, cartoons, drawings, or male or female pinups.”
Scott Mulligan, the OOC’s deputy executive director, said he’s “encouraged and supports the House of Representative’s initiative to further workplace rights training for Congressional employees.”
“We look forward to working with the Chief Administrative Officer to increase awareness of this issue and to build upon our Office’s existing training and outreach efforts,” he said.