Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Sexual Harassment Is Not Uncommon In U.S. Congress

Much is being made these days about sexual harassment in the entertainment industry (and rightfully so). And it's headline news that a molester of young girls is running for the Senate in Alabama. But something not being discussed is the sad fact that there are already sexual harassers in the U.S. Congress.

From CNN:

Be extra careful of the male lawmakers who sleep in their offices -- they can be trouble. Avoid finding yourself alone with a congressman or senator in elevators, late-night meetings or events where alcohol is flowing. And think twice before speaking out about sexual harassment from a boss -- it could cost you your career.

These are a few of the unwritten rules that some female lawmakers, staff and interns say they follow on Capitol Hill, where they say harassment and coercion is pervasive on both sides of the rotunda.

There is also the "creep list" -- an informal roster passed along by word-of-mouth, consisting of the male members most notorious for inappropriate behavior, ranging from making sexually suggestive comments or gestures to seeking physical relations with younger employees and interns.

CNN spoke with more than 50 lawmakers, current and former Hill aides and political veterans who have worked in Congress, the majority of whom spoke anonymously to be candid and avoid potential repercussions. With few exceptions, every person said they have personally experienced sexual harassment on the Hill or know of others who have. . . .

These anecdotes portray a workplace where women are subjected to constant harassment -- both subtle and explicit. They also highlight an antiquated reporting system that discourages some victims from speaking out, leaving many professionals on the Hill to rely instead on hushed advice from peers and mentors. . . .

In conversations with CNN, multiple women pointed to the elevators on Capitol Hill as a place where staff and members prey on women and say they have been advised to avoid riding alone with men if possible. One woman said years after leaving her job in Congress, she still feels anxious about being alone in elevators with men.

The inappropriate conduct is hardly limited to the confines of elevators.

The unique lifestyle on the Hill helps fuel a hostile culture. Many male members are far away from their families, including their spouses, during the week, frequently working late nights and attending evening fundraisers and events where alcohol flows freely. Often, they are staffed by younger, female employees. Some members of Congress forgo a Washington-area apartment and sleep in their offices, a practice several sources highlighted as problematic.

One aide who works in the Senate described Capitol Hill as "a sort of old school, Wild West workplace culture that has a lot of 'work hard, play hard' ethos and without the sort of standard professionalism that you find in more traditional workplaces."

This is both unacceptable and inexcusable. These are men that the voters have trusted to represent them, and they should be expected not just to uphold a normal standard of professional decency, but to adhere to a higher standard. These predators are abusing the power granted them by the voters.

Making matters even worse is the sad fact that their fellow congressmen seek to protect them -- with rules that prohibit a victim from filing a complaint for nearly 90 days, and only then after seeking counseling and signing a nondisclosure agreement. Then they must submit to negotiations with the office of the offending senator or representative. If a claim is finally justified (which is not likely), then any settlement will be secret and money paid out of government funds (taxpayer money) instead of the offender having to pay from his personal funds.

Is this really the kind of government we want -- where sexual harassers and abusers are protected instead of exposed? Personally, I think any charges should be public. The voters deserve to know if their representative or senator is a pervert. And if they are found to be guilty of the charge, they they should have to pay their own fine or settlement -- not the taxpayers.

We are taught to believe that no one is above the law in this country. Unfortunately, our members of Congress don't believe that -- and they have made special rules to protect themselves from the punishment that a normal citizen would receive. This must change!

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