New bill aims to stop senators from sexually harassing each other

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is taking the fight against sexual harassment to Congress, announcing new legislation that would stop legislators from sexually harassing one another.

The bill was prompted by revelations from female legislators from both sides of the aisle — including Republican Rep. Mary Bono of California, former Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, and Rep. Linda Sanchez of California — who went on the record with the AP this week, recounting the myriad occasions they’d been harassed in Congress. Their experiences ranged from lewd comments to physical groping on the House floor, behavior that they say spanned decades. And at least two of the alleged harassers are still in Congress today, the women said.

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“When I was a very new member of Congress in my early 30s, there was a more senior member who outright propositioned me, who was married, and despite trying to laugh it off and brush it aside it, would repeat. And I would avoid that member,” said Rep. Sanchez of California.

“The problem is, as a member there’s no HR department you can go to, there’s nobody you can turn to. Ultimately they’re employed by their constituents,” Sanchez added.

Gillibrand said that the bill would tackle several of the biggest hurdles victims of harassment in Congress currently face, including streamlining the process for victims to report complaints, creating a confidential advisor for victims to meet with, requiring annual sexual harassment training for legislators and their staff, removing a requirement that victims go through mediation before filing a complaint, and giving interns the same resources as full-time staff.

But reports of governmental harassment extend far beyond the walls of Congress, and across the country, legislators on the state level are speaking out too.

More than 200 women in California, including lawmakers, staffers, and lobbyists signed a letter in October exposing sexual harassment, lewd comments, groping, and a host of other inappropriate behaviors they experienced in their jobs.

READ MORE: Hundreds of women sign letter alleging sexual harassment in government

In Washington, three women involved in state politics accused former Democratic Rep. Brendan Williams of sexual harassment, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. One of the woman, Samantha Kersul, now the director of development and operations at the Washington Senate Democratic Campaign, said that in 2009, Williams had followed her into the bathroom at a bar, pushed her against a wall, and forcibly kissed her.

And in Oregon, Democratic Sen. Sara Gelser accused Sen. Jeff Kruse of groping her and making other unwanted sexual advancements for years, according to The Oregonian. Democratic Senate president Peter Courtney removed Kruse from all of his committees that same day.

“Congress should never be above the law or play by their own set of rules,” Gillibrand, who says she has also been the victim of sexual harassment, said in a statement. “The current process has little accountability and even less sensitivity to victims of sexual harassment.”