Hundreds of former Capitol Hill staffers will call on congressional leaders to require mandatory sexual harassment training for members of Congress as reports of inappropriate and aggressive behavior circulate in political circles around the country.
A letter circulating through social media networks this week had collected more than 180 signatures of former congressional staffers by Tuesday morning. One signer said those spearheading the letter hoped to gain 300 signatures before it is formally sent to congressional leaders.
The letter, addressed to Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Charles Schumer(D-N.Y.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Reps. Greg Harper (R-Miss.) and Bob Brady (D-Pa.), says Congress has not done enough to end the culture of harassment that is pervasive on the Hill.
“We believe that Congress’s policies for preventing sexual harassment and adjudicating complaints of harassment are inadequate and need reform,” the letter says. “Members of Congress and Chiefs of Staff should be made aware of their responsibility for preventing and reporting cases of sexual harassment and the [Office of Compliance] should have the authority to investigate complaints of abuse or harassment.”
Shelby is the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, where Klobuchar serves as the ranking Democrat. Harper runs the House Administration Committee, where Brady is the top Democrat.
The letter is being circulated by Travis Moore, a former legislative director for former Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) who now runs the San Francisco-based firm TechCongress.
“Capitol Hill is a very different work environment from anywhere else in America. Each office has its own set of office policies, and varying degrees of following through on enforcing any of them,” said Mara Sloan, a former Hill staffer who now works at the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “For years, bad behavior has been ignored and accepted. I signed this letter to add to the growing collective voice that is saying we will not stand for business as usual anymore.”
Under current rules, congressional staffers who experience harassment may report violations to the Office of Compliance (OOC). But those rules require someone to wait 90 days after harassment occurs before filing a complaint. Anyone reporting harassment must undergo 30 days of mandatory counseling and 30 days of mediation before they are permitted to pursue legal action.
The letter asks the House and Senate to require mandatory harassment training, to make counseling and mediation voluntary for those who want to file a complaint with OOC and for Congress to survey its staff to assess just how much harassment goes on within congressional offices.
Four lawmakers last week told the Associated Press they had experienced sexual harassment, including unwanted advances, during their time on Capitol Hill. The letter cites a 2016 survey by CQ/Roll Call that found 40 percent of women on Capitol Hill agreed that harassment is a problem in the halls of Congress.
Last weekend, Pelosi told the AP that Congress needs to change its system of reporting and combatting harassment. Ryan urged members to undergo sexual harassment awareness training and to mandate such training for their staff.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has filed legislation to streamline harassment complaints.
“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,” Gillibrand said in a statement last week.