Politics

Hundreds of Former Staffers Urge Senate to Act on Sexual Harassment

Senate leadership to receive letter following recess

Congress Too wants to keep the momentum to address sexual harassment strong on Capitol Hill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Over 600 former staffers have signed a letter urging Senate leadership to consider legislation that would address sexual harassment on Capitol Hill. That number continued to grow Friday morning.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Rules Committee Chairman Richard Shelby and ranking member Amy Klobuchar will receive the letter early next week, coinciding with the Senate’s return.

“Part of our goal is to make sure that this issue stays in the forefront and senators are hearing from hundreds and hundreds of former staff who care about the institution and want to make sure that the folks who are there now are being protected and supported,” said Kristin Nicholson, former chief of staff to Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I.

Watch: What’s the Status of the Anti-Harassment Bill on Capitol Hill?

Nicholson worked on the Hill for 20 years and left in January 2017. She has been a leading voice for Congress Too, the group behind the letter.

“It’s been certainly a bipartisan effort in the House, our letter is completely bipartisan, the measures that are pending in the Senate are largely bipartisan and so we would hope that it would make it pretty easy for the momentum to continue,” she said.

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The group said it was discouraged when the omnibus spending package did not include the House-passed harassment measure and feels the clock is ticking as midterms approach.

“We wanted to make sure that we stayed energized and tried to get something done before everyone tunes out for the election,” Nicholson said.

The letter that leaders will receive after the 2-week recess asks for counseling for individuals wishing to file a complaint with the Office of Compliance, members and chiefs of staff to be made aware of their responsibility in preventing and reporting cases, the OOC to have authority to investigate complains and that victims get increased support and “should be told that non disclosure agreements do not bar them from directly seeking relief,” the letter reads.

“In addition to legislative reform, our big focus as a group has been supporting former staff, supporting current staff, helping people who want to go public with their own stories and experiences,” Nicholson said. “But more than anything, just being a support network for people who are still working in Congress.”

[Rep. Elizabeth Esty Won’t Seek Re-Election in Wake of Abusive Staffer Disclosures]

The group is also requesting public disclosure be required when offices enter into sexual harassment settlements without the victims’ identities published.

“Congress should, every two years, survey Congressional staff in order to understand the rates of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill and determine the effectiveness of prevention and reporting programs,” it reads.

House leadership received a similar letter in Nov. 2017. All the female senators sent a letter to McConnell and Schumer in March 2018 urging them to rewrite the Congressional Accountability Act, which addresses how survivors of harassment seek justice.

Nicholson added that Congress Too’s long-term goal is “ just chipping away at cultural changes on the Hill and elsewhere that have made this a breeding ground for harassment for so long.”

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