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ME TOO Act Seeks To Address Sexual Harassment Problems In Congress
Sexual harassment in Congress is a huge problem.
Women who work in the halls of Capitol Hill have described how they have avoided entering elevators with men, if doing so means they’d be the only female inside. Others have described a “creep list” that they pass among each other, detailing which lawmakers and other male workers in the Capitol to avoid. Lawmakers who “sleep over” in their offices are especially problematic.
Still others have described a sexual harassment policy that leaves much to be desired. The process calls for “mediation” between the accuser and the accused, requiring women who have been targeted to meet their abusers in person, often an experience that they’d just as much like to avoid entirely. The process can take months to complete.
The problem is so endemic that Congress has actually paid a hefty sum — $15 million in settlements fees to victims of abuse — from a fund that is paid for by you and me, the taxpayers.
A new bill in Congress, however, seeks to change how things work, allowing victims of sexual abuse to make claims without fear of retribution or enduring months of mediation that often results in nothing positive. The ME TOO Act, introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and supported by a bipartisan group of legislators, would remedy many of the inherent problems of the current way victims can lodge complaints.
Under the bill, many things would change for the better, including:
- Waiving counseling or mediation as a prerequisite for filing a complaint
- Allowing victims of sexual abuse the opportunity to have their own legal counsel
- Prohibiting nondisclosure agreements as a condition for initiating a complaint
- Require a “climate survey” annually to allow workers to express whether things are getting better
- And creates a “whistleblower” protection for workers who file complaints.
The bill would also allow victims the opportunity to work remotely or take paid time off in certain circumstances, allowing them to keep a safe distance away from their abuser. Sexual harassment training for all employees — including lawmakers — would happen yearly.
These reforms to how victims of sexual abuse can address problems in their workplace are necessary for Congress. There exists within the confines of our legislative branch of government an endemic pattern of abuse, and old rules for dealing with abusers are outdated and insufficient.
The proposal by Gillibrand and Speier is a great way to start remedying the problems in Congress when it comes to sexual harassment and abuse. Congress should pass them immediately, and implement them in full force.