Lawmakers Introduce 'Me Too' Legislation To Combat Sexual Harassment In Congress

"There is a serious sexual harassment problem in Congress and too many congressional offices are not taking this problem seriously at all."

The "#MeToo" movement began as a way to show women they're not alone in facing sexual assault and harassment, and quickly grew into a global phenomenon that has precipitated a hopeful shift in the way we, as a society, deal with unwanted sexual contact.

To that end, a bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers have introduced their own "Me Too" legislation in an effort to combat sexual harassment in and around the United States Congress. The act, which aims to overhaul the system for filing and settling harassment claims from congressional employees, was introduced on November 15 by Rep. Jackie Speier of California, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York — both Democrats. CNN reports Reps. Ryan Costello, a Republican of Pennsylvania, Ann McLane Kuster, a Democrat of New Hampshire, and Bruce Poliquin, a Republican of Maine, are all co-sponsors of the House bill.

In a news conference held earlier this week, those behind the proposed act spoke about why they have introduced it and what they hope to achieve with it. "Zero tolerance is meaningless unless it is backed up with enforcement and accountability," Speier said, according to NPR.



The bill would also establish an online system to initiate complaints, require mandatory annual training for members of Congress and staff, give interns and fellows access to the same resources and protections as staff, and end a 30-day forced mediation period before a formal complaint can be filed. Therefore, if enacted, Speier and others have intimated a bill such as this will help formally address situations like the sexual harassment allegation against Sen. Al Franken, and the numerous sexual assault and harassment allegations against Senate hopeful Roy Moore.

Added Gillibrand, who is leading the effort to get this act passed in the Senate, to reporters, "There is a serious sexual harassment problem in Congress and too many congressional offices are not taking this problem seriously at all."

Both Speier and Gillibrand are speaking from experience. Gillibrand has been open about her own experiences being harassed by unnamed male colleagues, and last month Speier shared her story on Twitter. The incident, which occurred when Speier was working as a congressional staffer, involved a unnamed chief of staff who forcibly kissed her without consent.

Together with Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Republican from Virginia, Speier has become a prominent voice regarding the work climate in Congress. Just a day before introducing this bill, PBS reports Comstock and Speier both testified before the House Administration Committee regarding sexual harassment on the Hill. Between them the women described multiple instances of sexual misconduct by House members, including one instance in which a current male member of Congress exposed himself to an aide after summoning said aide to his house.

In that same testimony Speier also claimed over $15 million has been paid to settle some 260 claims relating to Congress since 1997. In addition to everything stated above, this act will also require lawmakers to pay out of pocket for any settled claim where they are identified as the harasser. 

This proposed bill comes roughly one month after Senators Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), Claire McCaskill (D–Miss.), Heidi Heitkamp (D–N.D.), and Mazie Hirono (D–Hawaii) shared their own harrowing "Me Too" stories on Meet The Press.

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