Congresswoman warns of groping on House floor and other sexual harassment on Capitol Hill
(WASHINGTON) -- Two members of Congress said Tuesday that some of their colleagues have engaged in sexual harassment with staffers and others, including exposing their genitals, groping women on the House floor and asking apparently lewd questions such as "are you going to be a good girl?"
The allegations come as the entertainment industry and others are reeling from dozens of accusations of sexual harassment, assault and rape, propelled by a litany of complaints against director Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein has denied the allegations.
The comments came during the House Administration Committee's first hearing to review sexual misconduct policy in the House of Representatives.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who revealed in October that she was sexually harassed as a congressional staffer decades ago, said that since she went public with her story, she has been told of two sitting members of Congress who have allegedly engaged in sexual harassment.
"I have had numerous meetings with phone calls with staffers, both present and former, women and men who have been subjected to this inexcusable and often illegal behavior," she said. "In fact, there are two members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, right now, who ... have engaged in sexual harassment."
She went on, "These harasser propositions such as, 'are you going to be a good girl.' to perpetrators exposing their genitals, to victims having their private parts grabbed on the House floor. All they ask 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."
Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., a member of the committee who has served as a Hill staffer, said she was recently alerted to a situation involving another current member of Congress who exposed himself to a female staffer delivering materials to his home.
"There is a new recognition of this problem and the need for change of culture that looks the other way because of who the offenders are," she said. "Whether it's Bill Cosby, Bill O'Reilly, Mark Halperin, Roger Ailes, Kevin Spacey or one of our own, it's time to say no more."
Last week the Senate passed a measure requiring harassment training for senators and congressional aides.
Shortly after the hearing, House Speaker Paul Ryan said the House will do the same -- requiring anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for members of Congress and staff.
Previously, that was left to each member's office. A House-wide policy would require legislation to take effect.
"Our goal is not only to raise awareness, but also make abundantly clear that harassment in any form has no place in this institution," Ryan said in a statement.
On Tuesday, the committee also heard from House administration officials regarding existing procedures to deal with sexual harassment on Capitol Hill. Currently, the Office of Compliance handles sexual harassment charges for legislative branch employees in both the House and Senate. The office has a three-step confidential process that includes counseling and mediation.
Speier has proposed mandating harassment training, instituting biannual surveys to address the scope of the problem on Capitol Hill and reforming the "broken" reporting process, which she described as slow and ineffective.
"Is it any wonder that many staffers never file formal complaints? There is zero accountability and transparency," she said.
Barbara Child Wallace, the chair of the Office of Compliance's board of directors, defended the existing process, and told the committee more could be done to raise awareness of the current reporting procedures.
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