2 female lawmakers detail sexual misconduct by colleagues

Barbara Comstock
FILE - In this March 28, 2017, file photo, Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., walks at the Capitol, in Washington. Amid a daily deluge of stories about harassment in the workplace, female members of Congress detailed incidents of sexual misconduct involving current lawmakers at a House hearing on how to prevent such abuse. Comstock said she was recently told about a staffer who quit her job after a lawmaker asked her to bring work material to his house, then exposed himself. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Amid a daily deluge of stories about harassment in the workplace, female members of Congress detailed incidents of sexual misconduct involving current lawmakers at a House hearing Tuesday on how to prevent such abuse.

Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., said she was recently told about a staffer who quit her job after a lawmaker asked her to bring work material to his house, then exposed himself.

“That kind of situation, what are we doing here for women, right now, who are dealing with someone like that?” Comstock asked. Comstock said there should be clear-cut rules about the kinds of relationships and behaviors that are off-limits and create a hostile work environment.

Comstock said the name of the lawmaker she mentioned wasn’t disclosed to her, but emphasized that naming names is an important step in promoting accountability and encouraging victims to come forward.

At the same hearing, Rep. Jackie Speier said there are two current lawmakers who have been involved in sexual harassment.

“In fact there are two members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, who serve right now who have been subject to review, or not been subject to review, that have engaged in sexual harassment,” said Speier.

The Democrat from California recently introduced legislation to make training to prevent sexual harassment mandatory for members of Congress after sharing her own story of being sexually assaulted by a male chief of staff. Her bill also includes a survey of the current situation in Congress and an overhaul of the processes by which members and staffers file harassment complaints.

The bill has gained support from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., who chairs the House Administration Committee, said in his opening remarks, “I believe we need mandatory training, and probably everyone here would agree.”

Speier is planning to introduce a second bill this week that seeks to create greater transparency by listing offices that have complaints and their outcomes, as well as the monetary amount for all settlements. Additionally, the bill will move to address mandatory non-disclosure agreements attached to mediation.

Speier said since coming forward with her story she’s been inundated with phone calls from staffers eager to share their own accounts of harassment and abuse. A petition calling for Congress to make training mandatory has gained more than 1,500 signatures from former Hill staffers.

She did not name the lawmakers mentioned in her testimony, citing the non-disclosure agreements she wants to eliminate.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss those cases,” she said, adding that increased transparency is crucial to combatting harassment.

One Republican lawmaker, Rodney Davis of Illinois, said addressing the issue of sexual harassment on the Hill is “long overdue” and that Congress must “lead by example.” But he expressed concern that the increasing focus on gender hostility in the workplace could create unintended consequences, including “that some offices may just take a short cut and not hire women as a way to avoid these issues.”

Gloria Lett, counsel for the Office of House Employment Counsel, replied that such discrimination is illegal.

Both chambers of Congress have recently sprung into action to try to address accounts of sexual misconduct on the Hill.

The Senate last week unanimously approved a measure requiring all senators, staff and interns to be trained on preventing sexual harassment. On a voice vote, lawmakers adopted a bipartisan resolution calling for training within 60 days of the measure’s passage. Each Senate office would have to submit certification of completed training, and the certificate would be published on the public website of the secretary of the Senate.

With each passing day, new revelations of sexual misconduct continue to rock the political sphere. Alabama’s Republican nominee for Senate has come under fire after several women have come forward with accounts of sexually inappropriate behavior or, in at least one case, assault, at Moore’s hand when they were teenagers. In the wake of the allegations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans have said Moore should step aside. One Republican has suggested that if elected, Moore should be expelled from the Senate.

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