Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., urged the House Republicans on Tuesday to support her legislation that would require all members and staffers to receive mandatory, annual training on sexual harassment in the workplace.
"I’ve been working on this issue since 2014 and believe there are three steps Congress needs to take to fix the egregious, and sometimes illegal, behavior," Speier testified before the Committee on House Administration. "The first step is to require sexual harassment prevention and response training every year for both members and staff, just like ethics and cybersecurity training."
Speier, who has led the charge to prevent harassment and assault, said the Office of Compliance's online training model is a good start. However, she argued effective training that includes in-person, interactive instruction and dialogue.
"This is a simple change of the House rules, and there is already committee and bipartisan support for my bill, House Resolution 604, that would do this," Speier said during a hearing on preventing sexual harassment and sexual assault.
A second key step, Speier said, is to understand how pervasive the problem is in Congress. About 30,000 people work on Capitol Hill, and Speier said staffers should be polled to see how many have been affected.
"We can’t fix what we don’t know about. In my experience, working on sexual harassment and sexual violence on college campuses, in academia, and in our military, climate surveys are key to recognizing the scope of the problem and to evaluating the effectiveness of reforms," she said. "That’s why Congress should institute a congressional climate survey every two years."
Third, Speier said the system through which victims report crimes must be changed to protect them, not their accusers.
The current 90-day process sends the accuser to the Office of Compliance to make a complaint. He or she must first go through a 30-day period of counseling with a legal representative. Interns and fellows are not allowed to use this system.
If the person wants to speed up the procedure, he or she can sign a nondisclosure agreement that immediately triggers meditation proceedings, which last another 30 days. In that case, the victim cannot share information about the harassment or assault with even family or friends.
"Under the current process, congressional employees are, at best, unaware or confused and at worst are utterly betrayed," Speier said.
The suspect, whether it be a staffer or lawmaker, is represented at no cost by the House of Representatives counsel. However, the accuser must pay for his or her own representation, and Speier said that needs to change.
"For the few survivors who secure a settlement, there is no disclosure of the office involved or the amount of funds paid. Taxpayers foot the bill and the harasser goes on with his or her life. Meanwhile, the survivor is faced with personal, professional, and financial catastrophe. Is it any wonder that many staffers never file formal complaints? There is zero accountability and transparency," Speier concluded.