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Congress Faces Several Sexual Assault Allegations

Congress has paid more than $17 million in 252 settlements since 1997, according to an official Office of Compliance report. 25 settlements were made in 2005, the highest number of settlements in one year.

A 2016 survey indicates that 4 in 10 female congressional staffers believe Capitol Hill faces a sexual harassment problem and 1 in 6 said they were personally victimized, according to Roll Call.  

Section 201 of the Congressional Accountability Act prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace as well as harassment based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, according to the Office of Compliance.

A group of former Hill aides are collecting signatures for a letter asking congressional leaders to reform Congress’s insufficient sexual harassment policies, CNN states.

Congresswoman Jackie Speiers also believes Congress’s current sexual harassment policy is not victim-friendly, according to ABC News.  She currently leads a co-sponsor of a bill, the “ME TOO Congress Act,” named after the popular #metoo movement, that would require all lawmakers and staff to complete anti-harassment training,  ABC News reports. This act also amends portions of the CAA. House Speaker Paul Ryan said the House will vote on the bill this week.

Congressman John Conyers faces several sexual assault allegations and stepped down as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee on November 26th due to a sexual harassment investigation, CNN says. He denies these allegations and published a string of Tweets regarding these allegations and his decision.

Buzzfeed reports that Conyers settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with a former employee who feels she was fired because she didn’t submit to his pressure. This woman exchanged confidentiality for a $27,000 settlement, which came from Conyers’ office budget instead of the designated fund for settlements.

Melanie Sloan, former executive director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said Conyers harassed and verbally abused her when she worked for him in the 1990s and that Congress ignored her appeals, according to the Washington Post. During this time, she witnessed instances of sexual misconduct, such as once seeing him half-dressed in his office.

However, Conyer’s legal counsel, Arnold Reed, denies Sloan’s claim, the Washington Post reports. She originally feared speaking out about her experiences but realized her complaints may be taken seriously in light of the new investigation.

“People are afraid to come forward. So much about working in Washington is about loyalty, and you are supposed to shut up about these things,” Sloan said.

Senator Al Franken also faces sexual harassment allegations from 790 KABC anchor Leeann Tweeden, according to a post she wrote. In this post, she publicly criticized Franken’s actions and shared how they impact her. Tweeden debated sharing her experiences but after Speier spoke out against Conyers, Tweeden realized her story can add to the conversation on sexual harassment.

“I want to have the same effect on them that Congresswoman Jackie Speier had on me,” Tweeden said. “I want them, and all the

 other victims of sexual assault, to be able to speak out immediately, and not keep their stories –and their anger– locked up inside for years, or decades.”

Since then, other women have also come forth with their own stories about the way Franken treated them, according to NBC.

Despite the CAA’s role in stopping sexual harassment, a number of cases continue to arise.

Women in Washington, including Speier and Senator Kristen Gillibrand, have realized they need to fight for new legislation to ensure sexual harassment comes to a halt.

Featured Image by Jacob Resor on Flickr

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