All 22 women in the U.S. Senate have signed a letter demanding a change to Capitol Hill’s sexual harassment complaint process, which has been denounced by more than 50 congressional aides as having been designed to discourage women from filing claims or speaking out about misconduct. Under the Congressional Accountability Act, which was passed in 1995, victims of harassment must officially file their complaints within 180 days of the alleged harassment — but are required to wait nearly three months as they go through counseling, mediation, and an arbitrary month-long waiting period before they are allowed to even file their claim. In a letter written to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, 22 women Senators — 17 of them Democrats, five of them Republicans — signed a letter that publicly questioned why the Senate was ignoring proposals to reform the process.
“The Senate’s inaction stands in stark contrast to the bipartisan effort in the House of Representatives that led to the passage of bipartisan CAA reform legislation in February,” the letter read. “The House bill includes a number of important provisions, such as eliminating waiting periods before a victim can take their case to court, increased transparency for awards and settlements, and a requirement that Members of the Senate and House pay for an award or settlement stemming from a case of sexual harassment or discrimination that they personally commit.” But, according to Politico, the bill is being held back by that one provision, which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell disagrees with: a requirement that would hold lawmakers personally liable for discrimination settlements and harassment claims linked to their behavior.
Currently, even if a victim should manage to secure a settlement over a sexual harassment claim, payments over such claims are allowed to be paid using taxpayer dollars.
The letter also drew attention to the fact that the House now provides victims of harassment or discrimination with free legal representation — a measure that the Senate has yet to extend to its own employees.
“Inaction is unacceptable when a survey shows that four out of 10 women congressional staffers believe that sexual harassment is a problem on Capitol Hill and one out of six women in the same survey responded that they have been the survivors of sexual harassment,” the letter concluded. “No longer can we allow the perpetrators of these crimes to hide behind a 23-year-old law.”
Read the full story at NPR.