More than 50 lawmakers, congressional staffers and political operatives have disclosed that sexual harassment is rampant in the U.S. Congress. Several members of Congress have proposed legislation to make it easier for staffers on Capitol Hill to report misconduct.
On Nov. 14, more than 50 sources who currently or previously worked in Congress said they had experienced sexual harassment or knew someone who had been harassed. The majority of the sources requested anonymity to speak frankly about the pervasiveness of harassment on Capitol Hill and how ineffectual the Office of Compliance is in addressing complaints, CNN reports.
Several congressional staffers and operatives said there was an unofficial list of lawmakers who engage in sexual harassment. The majority of the harassment is directed at female staffers and interns.
"There are a lot of tales of these guys going out and behaving very badly with younger staffers," said a former House staffer.
"Amongst ourselves, we know," a former Senate aide said. "There is a certain code amongst us, we acknowledge among each other what occurs."
One Senate aide said Congress was "a sort of old school, Wild West workplace culture that has a lot of 'work hard, play hard' ethos and without the sort of standard professionalism that you find in more traditional workplaces."
More than a dozen sources said there was one California congressman and one Texas congressman who were particularly well known for sexual harassment.
A female political veteran asserted that many women on Capitol Hill felt pressured to reciprocate male lawmakers' sexual advances to further their careers.
"There's a little bit of a sex trade on Capitol Hill," the political veteran said. "If a part of getting ahead on Capitol Hill is playing ball with whatever douchebag -- then whatever."
A former Senate aide said the OOC was ill equipped to handle complaints, recalling that the oversight office had shut her down when she wanted to report verbal abuse from her superior.
"It is like the place where complaints go to die," the former staffer said. "It was like I was talking to a black hole of people who didn't care."
The OOC has been criticized for having an onerous process for Capitol Hill staffers to report abuse or harassment. Currently, aides who want to report to the office have to undergo 30 days of counseling, often another 30 days of mediation and then another 30 days before being permitted to officially file their complaint and receive a hearing on the matter.
Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California have proposed legislation to reform the OOC.
On Nov. 3, former Republican Rep. Mary Bono of California disclosed that a male colleague in Congress had sexually harassed her for years before she confronted him, The Associated Press reports. Former Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California said a colleague sexually harassed her in front of their peers in the 1980s. Democratic Rep. Linda Sanchez and former Democratic Rep. Hilda Solis of California also disclosed that fellow lawmakers sexually harassed them.
"It is a man's world, it's still a man's world," Bono said of the environment in Congress.
On Nov. 14, the House held a hearing on the prevalence of sexual harassment in Congress. Speier, who has previously disclosed that a senior aide sexually assaulted her in the 1980s, said congressional staffers had told her that Capitol Hill needed more oversight.
"All they ask in return as staff members is to be able to work in a hostile-free environment," Speier said, according to The Washington Post. "They want the system fixed, and the perpetrators held accountable."