Protecting Child Safety at All Levels of Society

US Congress policy on sexual harassment protects harassers, not victims

#MeToo reaches all the way to Capitol Hill. CNN states bluntly, “Congress has a sexual harassment problem.”

Be extra careful of the male lawmakers who sleep in their offices — they can be trouble. Avoid finding yourself alone with a congressman or senator in elevators, late-night meetings or events where alcohol is flowing. And think twice before speaking out about sexual harassment from a boss — it could cost you your career.

These are a few of the unwritten rules that some female lawmakers, staff and interns say they follow on Capitol Hill, where they say harassment and coercion is pervasive on both sides of the rotunda.

There is also the “creep list” — an informal roster passed along by word-of-mouth, consisting of the male members most notorious for inappropriate behavior, ranging from making sexually suggestive comments or gestures to seeking physical relations with younger employees and interns.

US Representative Jackie Speier named the ways that the current Congressional policies on sexual harassment protect harassers rather than victims. She is testifying before a House administration committee today in a major push to reform these policies. In interview with MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, Rep. Speier described the current, fundamentally flawed process. Currently, people working in Congress who have experienced workplace sexual harassment must undergo the following:

Initiate a complaint

Take one month to be counseled about the legal ramifications of harassment

Go through a second month, sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and participate in mandatory mediation

Have a month cooling-off period–now it’s three months of continuing to work in the office where the person was harassed–before proceeding with the complaint.

The process is further flawed because:

Harassers are provided legal counsel by the House of Representatives, but victims are not.

If a monetary settlement is made to a victim, it is paid by the US Treasury (ie taxpayer money–yours and mine), not the harasser.

The harasser is never publicly named.

As flawed as this process is, making things worse, interns and fellows (some of the most vulnerable people on the Hill) are not even eligible to access this process.

Representative Speier says this is “more like a system for the dark ages, not the 21st century” and she is calling for reforms that are much the opposite of current policy:

No forced mediation

No non-disclosure agreements

Victim counsel

Interns and fellows eligible to use the system

Addition of mandatory sexual harassment prevention training for members of Congress and staff.


Rep. Speier is hopeful that we have reached a societal tipping point at which sexual harassment and a hostile workplace is no longer acceptable, and that these reforms can be made.

This is a great example of change being needed at the top: it doesn’t get any clearer than lawmakers failing to be held accountable for the civil rights laws that are designed to make sure that every workplace is safe for every worker–even theirs! We are cheering on Representative Speier and all people who are calling for reforms.

Schedule an interview: Dr. Amy Tiemann is an author, educator, and child safety expert. She is the co-creator of and a Kidpower International Senior Leader. She is frequent guest expert on parenting websites, national radio tours, magazines from Redbook to Glamour, and TV including ABC News, the CBS Early Show, and NBC’s Today Show. The opinions expressed in this post are solely her own. To schedule an interview, call Spark Productions, 919-391-2337

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