House to require training to prevent sexual harassment

Lawmakers Hold Hearing on Sexual Harassment in Congress

Brendan Hoffman Getty Images The Speaker's rostrum in the U.S. House of Representatives

House lawmakers on Tuesday will review the chamber's sexual harassment policies in the wake of sweeping allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment that have rocked powerful institutions and industries across the country.

"In fact, there are two members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, right now, who serve, who have been subject to review or not subject to review, who have engaged in sexual harassment", Speier said.

The congresswoman said that victims had "their private parts grabbed on the House floor" and accused the unnamed colleagues of "exposing their genitals".

"There is a renewed recognition of this problem, rightfully, and a recognition of a culture that looks the other way because of who the offenders are", said Comstock.

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), a member on the committee, also said she had heard of a congressman who is now serving who had exposed himself to a young female staffer. And a young staffer ― it was a young woman ― went there and was greeted with a member in a towel.

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After the incident, the woman quit her job. "I think it's important we name names".

Under the current system, staffers must undergo months of counseling and mediation with the employing office before they can formally file a complaint. A number of lawmakers have also come forward and shared stories of harassment they faced - either during their time as lawmakers or when they previously worked on Capitol Hill as aides.

House Speaker Paul Ryan announced Tuesday that there will be a new mandatory anti-harassment and discrimination training for all House members and staff.

Until Ryan's announcement Tuesday, there was no requirement for sexual harassment training in the House of Representatives. Currently, the Office of Compliance handles sexual harassment charges for legislative branch employees in both the House and Senate.

"Obviously, that's not the right approach", he said.

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Office of Compliance staff who testified before the committee said mandatory in-person training would be a good first step toward preventing harassment.

She said that when she was just starting her career in politics, the chief of staff in her office sexually assaulted her.

Interns and fellows do not have access to the process, she noted.

Meanwhile, several Democrats are sponsoring legislation that would change the way sexual harassment complaints are handled. "All they ask for in return as staff members is to be able to work in a hostile-free work environment", Speier testified. "The victim has no counsel, no support".

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