(CNSNews.com) - Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a leading advocate for victims of sexual harassment in Congress, told the House Administration Committee on Thursday that for some victims of sexual harassment, the process of filing a complaint against a member of Congress or congressional staff is sometimes worse than the harassment itself.
“I think we’ve got to make sure that however we move forward, that we are victim-centric. We have to recognize that many of these victims, one of whom sat in my office crying, said to me, going through this process was worse than the sexual harassment itself,” said Speier.
Speier said H.R. 4396, known as the ME TOO Congress Act, which she introduced on Nov. 15, to amend the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, does not go far enough.
“We all recognize now that the Office of Compliance is mandated to do things that really hurt the victim. It’s not that they do it by choice. It’s because that’s how it is mandated in the Congressional Accountability Act,” the congresswoman said.
“H.R. 4396, which some of you have co-sponsored, it now has over 110 co-sponsors - Republicans and Democrats alike - is the Me Too Congress Act, which attempts to do the job of reforming the Office of Compliance,” she said.
“I don’t think it goes far enough, and as we continue to talk about this issue, I think we need to recognize that probably the House Ethics Committee or the House Administration Committee is not the venue to which investigations should be sent when a complaint is filed about sexual harassment. There needs to be an independent investigation,” Speier said.
“Now some have said, how about the due process? And I would say, there is due process here, and if we allow this independent agency or entity to do the review and make the recommendation to the House that that would provide it. I do think that we have to recognize that behavior like this is normally not just one incident,” she said.
Speier also told of a female staffer who was told her career would be over if she filed a sexual harassment claim.
“Shame on us for not having addressed this sooner, but a young woman who came to this building, who worked in a number of offices, and it was in her second office where she became or where she filed a complaint for sexual harassment. She’s no longer here. Her career was over. She was told her career would be over if she filed the complaint, and she hasn’t worked since," Speier said.
"We’ve got to make sure that the victims have the opportunity to stay here and work. They have a right to be able to work in these hallowed halls. Just because they were pawed by colleague of ours or by a staff member is not a reason to then if they file a complaint to ostracize them, so as we talk about this, I hope that we will redouble our efforts to make sure that we are protecting the victim and that we are making sure there’s a soft landing for them so they can continue to pursue a career in public service," she added.
The ME TOO Act requires annual training on sexual harassment in both chambers of Congress. It discontinues the legal practice of "mandatory mediation," which usually results in offenders avoiding being charged or punished. It also gives interns and fellows the same workplace protections on the issue as full-time staff. It states that many reports of sexual harassment are allegedly committed towards interns.