CALIFORNIA — Calling Congress a “breeding ground for a hostile work environment,” Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier came forward Friday, for the first time discussing with the public in vivid details her allegations of sexual harassment and assault she experienced as a young congressional staffer.
“A chief of staff held my face, kissed me, stuck his tongue in my mouth,” the California Democrat said in a video posted to her YouTube page, with the hashtag “#MeTooCongress.” “I know what it’s like to keep these things hidden deep inside.”
In the video, Speier describes the alleged assailant as a powerful staffer, who at the time was nearly 30 years her elder, in the office of a Democratic congressman from California. She said she felt “humiliation and anger.”
In a phone interview with CNN, Speier said she went public with something she has hidden for over 40 years, because she believes sexual misconduct is still a “rampant” problem in the culture of Capitol Hill.
“This is a problem nationally, and certainly Congress is not immune to it,” Speier said, noting the national conversation taking place in the wake of several high-profile sexual harassment cases. “The flood gates are open, we have reached a tipping point.”
Next week, Speier will introduce two pieces of legislation in the House of Representatives to change what she calls the “antiquated” system of reporting allegations of sexual misconduct which she believes was “designed to protect the institution and members” and is, she claims, impeding many victims from coming forward.
The first piece of legislation would make sexual harassment training mandatory annually for all members and their staff. Currently there is no requirement for sexual harassment training — although each individual office may elect to voluntarily have their staff watch a sexual harassment training video offered by the Office of Compliance.
The second measure is wider in scope to address broader reforms to the current complaint process within the Office of Compliance, which is the agency with responsibility to handle sexual harassment claims on Capitol Hill under the Congressional Accountability act of 1995.
Currently, if a congressional staffer wants to file a formal complaint — they must first go through a lengthy, multi-tiered process that could drag out over months before an official complaint can even be formally lodged.
Speier’s office described the current protocol for addressing sexual harassment to CNN. The accuser must first engage in 30 days of counseling with a legal counselor in the OOC. After 30 days, they have 15 days to agree to go into mediation with a representative within the office with whom they’re lobbying complaint against. That mediation would last at least 30 days. When mediation is finished, the accuser must wait 30 days — but not wait longer than 90 days. It is only then, after those steps, could the accuser officially file a formal complaint.
Speier says that creates such a laborious and complicated process that it places a huge barrier in the way for accusers to come forward, which she says is “designed to protect the institution and the members,” over the accusers.
Speier’s legislation, which is still being finalized, aims to reform the reporting process hurdles as well and calls for a climate survey to analyze the scope of the sexual assault problem on Capitol Hill.
The California Democrat says she hopes her story will help “give cover” to current or former staffers on Capitol Hill who too, were harassed to come forward and tell their stories.
In the hours since Speier has made her allegations public, an aide to the congresswoman says her office has been flooded by telephone calls and email messages. Many are saying thank you, but some, too, are sharing their own stories of alleged harassment within the halls of Congress.