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Former Hill Staffers Who Were Victims of Sexual Harassment Call for Leaders to Act

Differences still being worked out between House bill passed bill in February and Senate version passed in May

Seven former Capitol Hill staffers penned a letter Thursday urging action on sexual harassment policies in Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Seven former Capitol Hill staffers penned a letter Thursday urging action on sexual harassment policies in Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Seven former congressional staffers who experienced sexual harassment or assault while working on Capitol Hill sent a letter to House and Senate leaders Thursday urging them to enact changes to harassment and discrimination policies. 

“We write to remind you, and every member of the 115th Congress, not only of the pain we suffered, but also of the shame and humiliation that current staffers must bear when they too are victimized by harmful and discriminatory actions from a member of Congress, a supervisor, or a colleague,” wrote the seven women.

The former staffers include Lauren Greene, whose harassment claim against Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, prompted his resignation, and Anna Kain, whose harassment by a top aide in Rep. Elizabeth Esty’s, D-Conn., office led Esty to abandon re-election and acknowledge she had mishandled Kain’s complaint.

The letter comes as the Senate is grappling with a sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and nearly a year after the #MeToo movement brought workplace sexual harassment into the national spotlight.

“In every building, down every hallway, and behind every door in Congress are good, honest people — often young people — working long hours for little pay in hopes of making our country and the world fairer and more just,” the seven women wrote.

“But for too many of us, the work was tainted by harassment and abuse nurtured by a culture of secrecy and an unforgiving, flawed system that protects those in power rather than those who need protection most. This included sexual harassment, verbal beratement, public humiliation, being punched, being grabbed, being threatened. And in every instance, our current jobs and future careers in politics were integrally tied to our willingness to stay quiet.”

The House and Senate each passed bills to overhaul the Congressional Accountability Act, which set up and oversees the process for how sexual harassment complaints are made and handled on Capitol Hill. Both proposals would hold lawmakers personally liable for paying settlements.The House passed its version of the legislation in February. The Senate wrote its own bill, with significant differences, in May.

The proposals are not going through the traditional conference committee process, instead staff and key players in each chamber are engaged in behind-the-scenes talks. But there are still major sticking points, including the scope of lawmaker liability for harassment. There is limited time left in the legislative calendar before Election Day in November, which narrows the chance for action on a completed compromise bill.

Among the letter’s other signatories are Winsome Packer, who settled a harassment claim against Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.; Rebecca Weir, who shared a story of being asked to “twirl” by former Rep. Gary Miller, R-Calif.; Ally Coll Steele, who shared her experience of harassment by a former Democratic senator and founded a nonprofit focused on combating sexual harassment; Melanie Sloan, who joined others in alleging harassment by former Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Katherine Cichy, who shared her story of harassment while working in former Sen. Tim Johnson’s, D-S.D., office.

“We are dismayed and disheartened by Congress’s failure to act and take care of its own,” the group wrote.

Watch: The #MeToo Impact on 2018

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