Anti-sexual harassment training required by all US lawmakers, says speaker Paul Ryan
At hearing, one congresswoman called for clear-cut rules about the kinds of relationships and behaviour that should be off-limits on Capitol Hill
Speaker Paul Ryan announced on Tuesday that the House of Representatives will require anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all members and their staff, just hours after a hearing in which two female lawmakers spoke about incidents of sexual misconduct involving sitting members of Congress.
“Our goal is not only to raise awareness, but also make abundantly clear that harassment in any form has no place in this institution,” Ryan said. “As we work with the administration, ethics, and rules committees to implement mandatory training, we will continue our review to make sure the right policies and resources are in place to prevent and report harassment.”
The policy change will happen through legislation.
The move comes days after the Senate unanimously approved a measure requiring all senators, staff and interns to be trained on preventing sexual harassment.
During a House Administration hearing on Tuesday on sexual harassment prevention, Republican Representative Barbara Comstock said she was recently told about an employee who quit after a lawmaker asked her to take work material to his house, then exposed himself.
“What are we doing here for women, right now, who are dealing with someone like that?” Comstock asked. She said there should be clear-cut rules about the kinds of relationships and behaviour that are off-limits and create a hostile work environment.
Comstock said she did not know the name of the lawmaker and emphasised that naming names is an important step in promoting accountability and encouraging victims to come forward.
At the same hearing, Representative Jackie Speier said there are two lawmakers who have been involved in sexual harassment.
“In fact there are two members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, who serve right now who have been subject to review, or not been subject to review, that have engaged in sexual harassment,” said Speier.
The Democrat from California recently introduced legislation to make training to prevent sexual harassment mandatory for members of Congress after sharing her own story of being sexually assaulted by a male chief of staff. Her bill also includes a survey of the current situation in Congress and an overhaul of the processes by which members and staff file harassment complaints.
The bill gained support from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
Republican Representative Gregg Harper, who chairs the House Administration Committee, said in his opening remarks, “I believe we need mandatory training, and probably everyone here would agree.”
Speier said since coming forward with her story she’s been inundated with phone calls from staff eager to share their own accounts of harassment and abuse. A petition calling for Congress to make training mandatory has gained more than 1,500 signatures from former Hill staff.
She did not name the lawmakers mentioned in her testimony, citing the non-disclosure agreements she wants to eliminate.
“I’m not at liberty to discuss those cases,” she said, adding that increased transparency is crucial to combating harassment.
One Republican lawmaker, Rodney Davis of Illinois, said addressing the issue of sexual harassment on the Hill is “long overdue” and Congress must “lead by example”.
But he expressed concern that the increasing focus on gender hostility in the workplace could create unintended consequences, including “that some offices may just take a short cut and not hire women as a way to avoid these issues”.
Gloria Lett, counsel for the Office of House Employment Counsel, replied that such discrimination is illegal.
With each passing day, new revelations of sexual misconduct continue to rock the political sphere. Alabama’s Republican nominee for Senate Roy Moore has come under fire after several women have come forward with accounts of sexually inappropriate behaviour or, in at least one case, assault, at Moore’s hand when they were teenagers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans, including Ryan, have said Moore should step aside.