What many people have learned after the Harvey Weinstein scandal is that sexual assault and harassment happen everywhere, not just in Hollywood. Most recently, the Associated Press spoke with four female lawmakers who allege they've been harassed by fellow members of Congress, some of whom are still in office. These stories are why Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is doing something about sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.
On November 3, the New York senator proposed comprehensive legislation that would reform the way Congress handles sexual harassment. Specifically, putting rules in place that would make it easier for the victims to get justice.
“Congress should never be above the law or play by their own set of rules," Gillibrand said in a statement. "The current process has little accountability and even less sensitivity to victims of sexual harassment."
Gillibrand's bill would overhaul the Office of Compliance, which is the office that "advances workplace rights, safety, health, and accessibility in the Legislative Branch," and currently handles sexual harassment complaints. As of now, the rules require alleged victims to go through a mandatory 30-day mediation before moving forward with their complaints. Gillibrand's bill gets rid of forced mediation and creates "a designated person within the Office of Compliance to serve as a confidential advisor for victims of harassment," according to a summary of the bill.
Her bill also includes mandatory sexual harassment training for Congress members and their staff; the ability for congressional interns to file harassments cases the same way as full-time employees do; and forces all congressional offices to publicly post information about employees' rights.
The goal of Gillibrand's bill is to "increase accountability and transparency in the sexual harassment reporting process," which is why her bill is also "requiring climate surveys to show the true scope of this problem" in Congress. "We must ensure that this institution handles complaints to create an environment where staffers can come forward if something happens to them without having to fear that it will ruin their careers," she said in a statement.
Gillibrand isn't the only female lawmaker proposing a bill that changes the way sexual harassment complaints are handled. Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California also released a bill that focuses on protecting female congressional staffers.
"Women members of Congress have power," Speier told Bustle. "They have the ability to push back. They are not going to lose their jobs or be blackballed. I’m concerned about the staff, the interns and fellows who have no power, no ability to push back, and who are fearful of losing their jobs and incomes." She added that, "Staff is just so much more vulnerable" than members of Congress. Last week, Speier revealed that she had been sexually assaulted by a male chief of staff who forcibly kissed her when she was a congressional staffer.
Former Rep. Mary Bono of California also shared her own sexual harassment story, telling the AP she endured "suggestive comments from a fellow lawmaker in the House of Representatives." The lawmaker, who still serves in Congress, once told her he’d "been thinking about her in the shower." Bono would end up confronting him and she says he did stop, but her story is not a triumphant one.
“It is a man’s world, it’s still a man’s world,” Bono told AP. “Not being a flirt and not being a bitch. That was my rule, to try to walk that fine line.” The hope is with new legislation no other women in Congress will have to feel those are their only choices when dealing with sexual harassment.