Lawmakers Propose More Protection for Sexual Harassment Victims

An expansion of the protections in Congress offered to victims of sexual harassment was proposed on Wednesday by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. The push comes in response to numerous claims of harassment by employees on Capitol Hill.

The bill follows a public hearing the day before in which sexual harassment was deemed a prevalent issue and was indicated that a number of Congress members have been involved in sexual misconduct. The measure known as ME TOO Congress Act seeks to make the process of filing harassment reports less complicated for employees and will also disclose the names of those congressional offices which paid settlements in cases of harassment or discrimination.

Mediation will also be terminated and employees won’t be subject to confidentiality. The U.S. Treasury will no longer be used to pay for settlement, but rather members of Congress will be bound to do so out of their own budgets.

“For all intents and purposes, a staffer in the Capitol is powerless and gagged . . . Today, we are going to end all of that,” said Jackie Speier, who con-sponsored the legislation. Speier herself was a victim of inappropriate sexual behavior while she was a congressional employee.

The legislation also aims to reinstate part of the worker protections removed with the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act. The process currently in place makes it difficult for perpetrators to be held accountable because victims are very often discouraged from filing complaints.

““In examining it [the current system], you come away understanding that the system is set up to protect the perpetrator, not the victim,” Anna G. Eshoo said.

However, it still remains to be seen how much support the bill introduced by Speier and several other senators will receive. In the past few weeks a lot of pressure has been put on Congress to improve working conditions on the Hill.

“I can’t say that anything has changed overnight. I think people’s attitudes are changing. And I’m hopeful that the process for reporting this and dealing with this effectively improves because of it,” said Representative Linda Sanchez.

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