One of the women leading the charge to help victims of sexual harassment who work on Capitol Hill said Sunday she believed the current rules were put in place to help the abusers.
‘I think it was a system set up in 1995 to protect the harasser,’ Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, told ABC News’ Martha Raddatz. ‘This is not a victim-friendly process. And one victim who I spoke with said, “You know, the process was almost worse than the harassment.”‘
Speier was referring to the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, which outlines the procedures Capitol Hill staffers have to follow to report sexual harassment or assault in the workplace.
Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, told ABC News’ Martha Raddatz that she thought the current sexual harassment reporting procedure on Capitol Hill was put in place ‘to protect the harasser’
Rep. Jackie Speier (right) told ABC’s Martha Raddatz (left) that one victim of sexual harassment who worked on Capitol Hill told her the procedure to report what happened was more painful than the incident itself
Rep. Barbara Comstock (center) said on ABC’s This Week that there’s bipartisan support for a more ‘victim-friendly’ set of guidelines
‘There’s a broad consensus to get rid of a lot of that so it’s much more victim-friendly,’ explained Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Virginia Republican who’s also been vocal on the issue.
As it stands, when a victim is sexually harassed or abused on Capitol Hill they have 180 days, about six months, to file a claim through the Office of Compliance.
Once a complaint is filed, victims have 30 days of mandatory counseling in which counselors give victims information about their rights under the 1995 law.
Counselors do not, however, do not advise the victims on the merits of their case.
Once counseling is completed, victims have 15 days to decide if they want to pursue mediation.
If the victim doesn’t pursue mediation, the law doesn’t give victims another avenue to pursue the claim.
If the victim does pursue mediation they are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Victims are also likely still working alongside their harasser, as there’s nothing in the law that forces the lawmaker or the Congressional office to improve the work culture.
Additionally, the lawyer doing the mediation is representing the congressional office and is paid by taxpayer dollars, while the victim may not have an attorney of her or his own.
Settlements have also been paid out using taxpayer dollars and victims have signed non-disclosure agreements to keep the details locked tight.
A number of lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said Sunday they would be for retroactively releasing information to the public about these cases.
In Pelosi’s case she was for the release, as long as it had the victim’s support.
For victims who don’t settle, they’re required to endure a 30-day ‘cool off’ period, before they can file a lawsuit or request an administrative hearing.
If they pursue this option, they’ll have no support from the OCC.
Earlier this month, Speier introduced the ME TOO act to Congress to reform these procedures.
‘The whole system needs to have a comprehensive shift,’ she explained on ABC’s This Week today.
Among the improvements, Speier said, her legislation would apply to aides, but also to fellows and interns, who currently have no way to formally wage complaints.
‘You would not have a mandatory mediation if you don’t want to pursue it,’ she said. ‘And you will not be subject to a mandatory non-disclosure agreement.’
Staffers would also be surveyed, as a way to ensure that Capitol Hill offices were making progress on this issue.
‘We say zero tolerance, but I don’t believe that we put our money where our mouths are,’ Speier said.
Comstock echoed the sentiment.
‘When this comes forward, we need to respect it and we need to protect the women to make sure it doesn’t happen anymore, and there are consequences,’ Comstock said.