2 congresswomen accused sitting male lawmakers of sexual misconduct during a hearing on Capitol Hill

Rep. ComstockScreenshot/PBSRep. Barbara Comstock, a Virginia Republican, called on much stronger sexual harassment prevention policies and recourse for victims in Congress.
  • Two female lawmakers accused sitting congressmen, whose identities they did not disclose, of sexual misconduct during a House hearing on Tuesday.
  • The lawmakers, Rep. Barbara Comstock and Rep. Jackie Speier, are advocating for reforming the House’s sexual harassment policies.
  • The hearing comes as the national spotlight on workplace sexual misconduct turns to Capitol Hill.

Two female lawmakers accused three sitting male members of Congress of sexual misconduct during a hearing on Tuesday in which they criticised the House’s sexual harassment policies and called for reform.

Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Virginia Republican, told the story of an unnamed congressman who asked a female aide to deliver work materials to his home, greeted her dressed in towel, and proceeded to expose his genitals to her. The aide quickly left the congressman’s home and later quit her job.

“What are we doing here for women right now who are dealing with somebody like that?” Comstock asked the panel, which included representatives from the Office of Compliance and the Office of House Employment Counsel, which deal with congressional sexual misconduct allegations.

Comstock argued that there should be stronger punishments for perpetrators and a safer environment for victims to come out of “the shadows.”

“I think it’s important we name names,” Comstock said of the perpetrators.

Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who recently came forward with her own stories of being sexually assaulted as a young congressional staffer, accused two sitting male lawmakers — one a Democrat and the other a Republican — of sexual harassment. She did not disclose the accused’s identities.

Speier, who said he’s had “numerous” conversations with both female and male staffers who “have been subjected to this inexcusable and sometimes illegal behaviour,” argued for reforming the system by which victims seek redress. The congresswoman, who has called the House and Senate “among the worst” in terms of hostile work environments, said the process is stacked against the victim and discourages them from coming forward with their allegations.

“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 in return as staff members is to be able to work in a hostile-free work environment,” Speier told the committee. “They want the system fixed and the perpetrators held accountable.

Speier, who has introduced legislation to change the House’s policies, argued that Congress should do three things to address the issue: First, mandate sexual harassment prevention and response training for members and staff; second, survey lawmakers and staffers about sexual misconduct every two years; and third, reform the dispute resolution system.

Speier lambasted the current process for reporting misconduct, which requires that the victim undergo 30 days of mandatory counseling and mediation and sign a nondisclosure agreement.

“The present system may have been ok in the dark ages,” Speier said. “It is not appropriate for the 21st century.”

‘We can do something very, very strong right now’

In recent weeks, several female lawmakers have spoken openly about harassment they faced from male lawmakers. On Monday, 1,500 former congressional aides signed an open letter calling for mandatory sexual harassment training for all lawmakers and staff and for a stronger system to handle allegations of abuse.

On Tuesday, CNN reported the existence of a so-called “creep list,” an informal list of male lawmakers and staffers who have sexually harassed or abused their colleagues, that is passed around Capitol Hill by word of mouth.

CNN spoke with more than 50 lawmakers, aides, and political operatives who testified to a culture of harassment and inappropriate treatment of young women, in particular, by men in positions of power.

“People [are] using their power without any self-control,” a former House staffer told CNN. “There are a lot of tales of these guys going out and behaving very badly with younger staffers.”

The hearing is the first in a review of the House’s sexual harassment policies and comes amid a growing national awareness of the pervasive nature of workplace sexual harassment and abuse following hundreds of allegations against prominent men in Hollywood, in the media, and in Congress.

There is no requirement that congressmembers and staffers undergo sexual harassment training, but House leadership, including Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi agree that the training program should be improved.

Last week, the Senate passed a resolution requiring that all senators and their staffers go through sexual harassment training. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is also sponsoring a bill that would simplify the process of reporting sexual misconduct to the Office of Compliance.

“I don’t want to say I’m excited about it because it’s all very, very sad, but it’s hopeful that we can do something very, very strong right now,” Pelosi told CNN last week.

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