A bipartisan effort to prevent sexual harassment on Capitol Hill hit the Senate on Tuesday.
The “Senate Training on Prevention of Sexual Harassment Resolution,” or the “STOP Sexual Harassment Resolution,” was proposed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
The measure would require newly elected individuals to complete a proposed training within 60 days of entering their position. After the rules are established, those currently serving will have 60 days to partake in the training.
Everyone in the Senate — from members to interns — will be mandated to participate in training “periodically”; how often will be determined by the Committee on Rules and Administration. In addition, Grassley’s proposal calls for a periodic anonymous survey to gauge members’ experience with or related to sexual harassment, and if they have experienced such behavior why they chose not to come forward.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) all also stand behind the bill.
The proposed measure comes at a time when women across the country are proclaiming #MeToo to stand in solidarity with fellow victims of sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape.
Sexual harassment received nationwide attention after accusations came out against disgraced media mogul Harvey Weinstein. Since then, hundreds of women have collectively come forward against Weinstein and others in the entertainment industry.
But Hollywood is by no means the only sector with a sexual harassment problem — and Capitol Hill is not immune. Women with careers past and present in the political sphere have come forward as well to say, “Me too.”
Last week one former and three current lawmakers shared their stories with The Associated Press.
“The incidents they recounted occurred years or even decades ago, usually when the women were young newcomers to Congress. They range from isolated comments at one hearing, to repeated unwanted come-ons, to lewd remarks and even groping on the House floor,” The AP reported.
“This is about power,” said former Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
“It’s hostile and embarrasses, and therefore could take away a person’s power,” she said.
Rep. Linda Sanchez, a California Democrat, recalled repeated encounters with “a more senior member” of Congress.
“When I was a very new member of Congress in my early 30s, there was a more senior member who outright propositioned me, who was married, and despite trying to laugh it off and brush it aside it, would repeat. And I would avoid that member,” she told The AP.
Sanchez did not name the man, who is still a Congressman.
“The problem is, as a member there’s no HR department you can go to, there’s nobody you can turn to,” she said. “Ultimately they’re employed by their constituents.”
“I just don’t think it would be helpful” to call the lawmaker out by name, Sanchez said. “The problem is, as a member there’s no HR department you can go to, there’s nobody you can turn to. Ultimately they’re employed by their constituents.”
Boxer’s experience in the 1980s occurred during a Senate hearing, at which time “a male colleague made a sexually suggestive comment about her from the dais,” according to The AP. Members responded with “general laughter” and the committee chairman gave the comment an “approving second.”
Former Republican Rep. Mary Bono said a Congressman told her on the House floor that he had been thinking about her in the shower. She eventually confronted the man, who she did not identify but still serves as a lawmaker, and the behavior then stopped.
“It is a man’s world, it’s still a man’s world,” she said. “Not being a flirt and not being a bitch. That was my rule, to try to walk that fine line.”
Accusations go higher than lawmakers, too. Actress Heather Lind, shared in a now-deleted post on social media that she was sexually harassed by former President George H.W. Bush while posing for a photo. According to CNN, the post read, in part, “He didn’t shake my hand. He touched me from behind from his wheelchair with his wife Barbara Bush by his side. He told me a dirty joke. And then, all the while being photographed, touched me again.”
A spokesman for Bush chalked the incident up to a “joke” and described touching the woman as “good-natured.”
The problem with a seemingly innocent “dirty joke,” as was Boxer’s experience on the Senate floor as well, is that while it can make women feel uncomfortable, at the least, most women do not regard it as a form of harassment. According to a Cosmopolitan survey of women aged 18 to 34, among women who said they have never been sexually harassed at work, 16 percent responded “yes” when asked if they have ever had a sexually explicit or sexist remark spoken to them at work.
Meanwhile, more than 700 former Congress staffers have signed on to an open letter urging Congress to take action. According to the letter, 40 percent of female staffers in Congress believe sexual harassment is a problem on Capitol Hill. Further, one in six women said they have been victims of sexual harassment.
The letter is addressed to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Speaker Paul Ryan, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Chairman Richard Shelby, Klobuchar (who is a ranking member), Committee on House Administration Chairman Gregg Harper and Ranking Member of the Committee on House Administration Robert Brady.