Over 50 women who have worked on Capitol Hill, as Senators, Congresswomen, and aides, have come forward, detailing to CNN the persistent harassment they have received at the hands of their colleagues and supervisors on both sides of the aisle with virtually no avenue of redress. Most felt the need to remain anonymous, in order to honestly relay their experiences without fear of retaliation.
The women have passed around a “creep list” enumerating the male Congressional members who have verbally and physically harassed women and sought sexual favors in exchange for advancing the careers of young aides and interns. Multiple sources have relayed all the “rules” they whisper to their fellow women on Capitol Hill — don’t ride in an elevator with men, don’t go near the men who sleep at the office when you are working late, avoid events where there is lots of drinking, and on and on.
Many of the women have conveyed how difficult it is to take their complaints to anyone. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) are drafting legislation to streamline the anachronistic system currently in place.
The Office of Compliance has a complicated bureaucratic process from the early 90s designed to discourage reporting of harassment:
If a congressional aide wants to file a formal complaint with the OOC, they must first engage in 30 days of counseling. After 30 days, they can choose to go into mediation with a representative of the congressional office that they are lodging a complaint against, which can last at least another 30 days. Then, the accuser must wait an additional 30 days before they can officially file a complaint and pursue a hearing either with the OOC or the Federal District Court.
As if the convoluted reporting system were not deterrent enough for lodging complaints, one anonymous congresswoman added:
“I need these guys’ votes,” she said. “In this body, you may be an enemy one day and a close ally the next when accomplishing something. … So women will be very cautious about saying anything negative about any of their colleagues.”
Is that depressing? “I think it’s reality,” she said.
The existing environment, which penalizes women for coming forward, incentivizes what some have described as a “sex trade on Capitol Hill,” where women feel obliged to play ball, put up with harassment, flirt back, and even sleep with male members of Congress, in order to get ahead and not be ostracized.
Fortunately, the two female Democratic lawmakers drafting legislation in the House and Senate, along with the more than 50 women who have dared to speak up about the hostile work environment they battle every day, have taken a step forward, in light of the recent watershed of exposes about the sexual misconduct of powerful men, from the President, to Roy Moore, to Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, and many more.
The fish rots from the head. A permissive atmosphere toward sexual harassment in our government permeates our entire society, perpetuating the rape culture that enables men to view women — even powerful ones — as men’s sexual playthings. If we want to see our culture change for the better, we must start at the top.