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Staffers: Sexual Harassment Rampant In Congress

| by Robert Fowler
The U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

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 in 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 in Capitol Hill and how ineffectual the Office of Compliance was 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 that 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 in 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 she had been shut down by the oversight office when she wanted to report that a superior was verbally abusive.

"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 GOP Rep. Mary Bono of California disclosed that she had been sexually harassed by a male colleague in Congress for years before confronting him. Former Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California said that she had been sexually harassed by a colleague in front of all their peers in the 1980s. Democratic Rep. Linda Sanchez and former Democratic Rep. Hilda Solis of California also disclosed that they had been sexually harassed by fellow lawmakers, AP reports.

"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. Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California, who has previously disclosed that she was sexually assaulted by a senior aide in the 1980s, said that 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."

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