Joining four women senators who recently shared their experiences about sexual harassment, on Friday, California Rep. Jackie Speier opened up about being sexually assaulted when working in Congress as a staffer.
“I was working as a congressional staffer. The chief of staff held my face, kissed me, and stuck his tongue in my mouth,” she said in a video released Friday. “So I know what it’s like to keep these things hidden, deep down inside. I know what it’s like to lie awake in bed at night wondering if I was the one who had done something wrong. I know what it’s like years later to remember that rush of humiliation and anger.”
In the wake of the sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein and inspired by the women speaking up against sexual harassment on social media, Speier is encouraging others in Congress to share their stories with #MeTooCongress. “You know what? Many of us in Congress know what it’s like. Because Congress has been a breeding ground for a hostile work environment for far too long. It’s time to throw back the curtain on the repulsive behavior that has thrived in the dark without consequences,” she said.
She, along with Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Michigan), are introducing two separate pieces of legislation aimed at reforming how Congress addresses sexual harassment and assault allegations. Rep. Lawrence has introduced a bill requiring sexual harassment training for staff every two years, while Rep. Speier is working to overhaul the current reporting policies, which are “constructed to protect the institution — and to impede the victim from getting justice,” she told Politico. According to a July poll by RollColl, 40 percent of women congressional staffers say sexual harassment is a major problem on Capitol Hill.
Speier’s bill will mandate sexual harassment training for congressional staff and rewrites the process for reporting sexual assault and harassment complaints. Under the current process, the victim has to file a report with the Office of Compliance and undergo 30 days of counseling and 15 days of mediation before they can decide whether they want to file a complaint.
“Can you imagine a victim who’s been sexually harassed who attempts to file a complaint and then is told they’ve got to go through three months of biting their tongue and continuing to work in that kind of environment?” Speier asked “You’ve just been sexually harassed and you’re told you have to be ‘counseled’ for 30 days. Are you kidding me?”
Speier has introduced a bill requiring mandatory sexual harassment training on Capitol Hill every year since 2014, but given the national spotlight on sexual harassment by powerful men, there’s reason to hope that this is the year her bill will gain traction in Congress.
This article has been updated to clarify that Rep. Lawrence and Rep. Speier are sponsoring two separate, but related, bills tackling sexual harassment in Congress.