The U.S. House of Representatives will require anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all members and their staffs, just hours after a hearing in which two female lawmakers spoke about incidents of sexual misconduct involving sitting members of Congress.
Congressional leaders admitted the institution is highly vulnerable to the sexual harassment of staffers. They said sexual harassment might be pervasive among the thousands of women who work here, and they acknowledged they don't have the rules in place to stop it.
"Our goal is not only to raise awareness, but also make abundantly clear that harassment in any form has no place in this institution," Speaker Paul Ryan said. "As we work with the Administration, Ethics, and Rules committees to implement mandatory training, we will continue our review to make sure the right policies and resources are in place to prevent and report harassment."
Years before she was elected to Congress, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) was a U.S. House of Representatives staffer and said she was sexually harassed on the job.
"I just did what most women in my position would've done and just never ended up in a room near him again," Speier said.
Speier sat front and center at a U.S. House hearing on sex harassment and said Congress isn't policing itself nearly enough.
"In fact, there are two members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, right now, who serve, who have been subject to review or not subject to review, who have engaged in sexual harassment,” Speier said.
Testimony on the hearing detailed how Congress handled complaints of sex harassment, requiring staffers who complain to first undergo counseling, mediation and a "cooling off" period before possibly reaching settlements with those sexually harassing them.
The settlements were kept confidential. Payouts to the victims were not financed by the people who engaged in sexual harassment but by taxpayers.
U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (D-Va.) said the U.S. House should consider a prohibition on members of Congress having sexual relationships with their own staffers.
“There is a renewed recognition of this problem, rightfully, and a recognition of a culture that looks the other way because of who the offenders are," said Comstock. “Banning certain relationships that cause a problem, so that you don't have a hostile workforce."
Congressional leaders said they are ready to order mandatory sexual harassment prevention training for all offices of the U.S. House, but there is no timetable for getting that done.