A group of seven former congressional aides who have spoken out about experiencing sexual harassment or assault from lawmakers or staffers is urging leaders on Capitol Hill to act on their stalled efforts to reform the legislative body’s procedures for handling sexual misconduct claims.
“We hoped that our experiences — and those of many more who remain nameless — would spur Congress to fundamentally reform the deeply flawed system it now uses to address claims of harassment and discrimination,” the former aides wrote in a letter sent Thursday. “But it has been nearly one year since the #MeToo movement shed needed light on the prevalence of harassment and assault in our workplaces and yet no legislation has become law. We are dismayed and disheartened by Congress’s failure to act and take care of its own.”
The Me Too movement forced congressional leaders to examine Capitol Hill’s arcane policies for addressing such claims, a process plagued by a lack of transparency, and one that often had the effect of favoring the alleged perpetrator, not the victim.
But Congress has yet to finalize its reforms, despite the House and Senate each passing bipartisan legislation earlier this year ― and even as senators this week struggle to address Christine Blasey’s sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who helped negotiate the Senate’s bill, told HuffPost earlier this week that lawmakers “probably” won’t have time to address the final reforms until after the November midterm elections.
Some of the reported sticking points in resolving differences between the two bills include whether the legislation should prevent lawmakers from using taxpayer money to settle workplace sexual abuse claims and whether accusers can be provided lawyers to represent them.
A spate of lawmakers has resigned in the last year after a cascade of sexual misconduct allegations, including Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas).
Farenthold’s former communications director Lauren Greene, who has described how he sexually harassed her and told another aide about how he had “wet dreams” about her, was one of the signatories of Thursday’s letter.
The former congressman has yet to pay back his $84,000 taxpayer-funded settlement.
As the Me Too movement accelerated last fall, nearly 1,500 former congressional staffers signed a letter in November calling on Congress to improve its sexual misconduct procedures. Kristin Nicholson and Travis Moore, who founded the group Congress Too, spearheaded the campaign.
“Anna, Rebecca, Ally, Katherine, Winsome, Lauren, and Melanie have bravely shared their stories of sexual harassment and abuse on Capitol Hill, and Congress needs to act,” Nicholson and Moore said in a statement Thursday. “As they and countless former colleagues have recounted publicly and privately, Congress has a sexual harassment problem. Members of our group have described a climate of fear and secrecy, a burdensome and confusing reporting process, and a system designed to protect congressional offices at the expense of victims.”
Read the full letter below.