Congress is finally being forced to look its sexual harassment problem in the mirror.
In late October, Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California Tuesday spoke out about a moment when, as a congressional aide, her boss “held my face, kissed me, and stuck his tongue in my mouth.”
Since then, dozens of women working in Congress have called Speier’s office to tell similar stories. Speier has been pushing for changes to Congress’s burdensome reporting process for sexual harassment since 2014, and now her proposal could actually gain traction.
Speier, during a congressional committee meeting Tuesday, claimed that two currently serving members of Congress are among the people that have been accused of sexual harassment. She would not identify the accused, beyond saying the harassment was bipartisan: one is a Republican and one is a Democrat.
“These harasser propositions such as ‘Are you going to be a good girl?’, to perpetrators exposing their genitals, to victims having their private parts touched on the House floor,” Speier said during the hearing.
“All they ask in return as staff members is to be able to work in a hostile-free work environment. They want the system fixed, and the perpetrators held accountable,” she said.
The allegations are rocking the House leadership. Speaker Paul Ryan announced Tuesday that the House will implement new anti-sexual harassment and anti-discrimination training, mandatory for all employees.
For someone to report a claim of sexual harassment or assault in the Capitol now, the process takes months. Accusers often have to wait three months before filing a complaint, according the congressional Office of Compliance’s website.
They would have to go through a month of counseling, where they can be informed of their legal rights and asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, according to the L.A. Times. Then, they go through another month-long mediation process. If mediation fails, the accuser would have to wait another month before filing for an administrative hearing or filing a lawsuit.
The staffer or member of Congress accused of sexual harassment or abuse is represented by Congressional lawyers. Speier said Tuesday that $15 million in taxpayer dollars was paid to accuser to settle sexual harassment claims over the last 10 to 15 years.
A 2011 report suggested that sexual harassment allegations had increased on Capitol Hill, and said that taxpayers were footing the settlement bills.
Speier is now working on bipartisan legislation to speed up the process.
“The present system may have been OK in the Dark Ages; it is not appropriate for the 21st century,” Speier told the L.A. Times.