Politics

Congress to Explore Sexual Harassment in the Service Industry

Bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues hosting hearing Monday

Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., says for women working in the service industry, “quitting is not an option.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Congress wants to take a harder look at victims of sexual harassment who don’t have much clout.

The bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues is hosting a hearing, “Beyond the Headlines: Combating Service Sector Sexual Harassment in the Age of #MeToo” on Monday.

“We picked the service industry because it’s probably where… so much abuse is suffered by these workers and they’re working to keep their jobs,” co-chairwoman Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., said. “They don’t have the power of let’s say, one of these famous actresses.”

She added, “Think about, relatively speaking, a waitress in a restaurant — who is making less than minimum wage and is actually depending on tips — to have customers abusing her and who absolutely feels like she has no clout whatsoever. Quitting is not an option.”

Frankel co-chairs the caucus with Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind. The Florida Democrat said she is encouraged by the bipartisan effort to tackle sexual harassment.

“It’s such a contentious atmosphere, obviously in Congress,” Frankel said. “I think it says a lot when it’s a bipartisan effort by the women’s caucus. I think there will some men joining us [too].” 

The caucus also plans to look at the historically male-dominated tech industry, among others.

“What we’re trying to do is shine a light on different industries and make it transparent and obvious that we need a cultural change in America,” Frankel said.

Sexual harassment stories involving famous men and women have dominated the news. But she hopes to expose those not making headlines.

The caucus eventually would like to showcase industries that have made positive changes to protect their workers.

 Witnesses at Monday’s hearing include a hotel employee from Chicago and a restaurant worker from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Other witnesses include Victoria A. Lipnic, acting chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, Jackson Katz, founder & president of MVP Strategies and Patricia A. Wise, an attorney.

Frankel said the staffers she tasked to work on the issue basically are all women. She said they used their contacts from previous experiences to get witnesses.

“What’s happening is, with the Me Too movement and Times Up, there are advocates who are chomping at the bit to come forward and tell their stories,” the congresswoman said. But “there’s way too many victims out there who are afraid to come forward.”

Watch: Watch: Actress Evan Rachel Wood Testifies About Being Sexually Assaulted

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