Congress’ Sexual Harassment Rules Create Environment Ripe For Abuse

Congress' own rules regarding sexual harassment create an environment where abuse thrives and victims are cornered, often kept from coming forward out of fear.

The U.S. Capitol building seen at night.
Being a victim of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill is just as tough to report as for regular civilians. 

With the sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein piling up, countless other women in other industries have come forward, finally feeling safe enough to report their own tales of abuse at the hands of powerful men.

Still, United States lawmakers seem to have remained shielded from similar accusations, even as former President George H. W. Bush is accused of groping three women and telling them dirty jokes.

According to The Washington Post, the process for an accuser to file a lawsuit against lawmakers for sexual harassment may be making it difficult for victims to step forward. As a result, the publication adds, this may be keeping Congress pretty much isolated from suffering the consequences of court scrutiny.

Looking into stories involving interns who have accused lawmakers of being harassed, reporters learned that victims were never able to make formal claims against their former bosses. This is because, like many of Weinstein’s victims, they were afraid for their careers.

But the fact of the matter is that, in Washington, D.C., it's nearly impossible to accuse a lawmaker of sexual misconduct and have justice served.

In the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act’s “unique employment law” — which is applied to interns — accusers are required to attend therapy or counseling before seeking legal action against a lawmaker over sexual harassment or abuse, The Washington Post reports.

Abuse and harassment on Capitol Hill is reportedly believed to be rather common, but since Congress has been able to pass its own rules regarding assault accusations, they are able to avoid being caught or paying for their crimes.

Aside from the counseling requirement, accusers only have 180 days to bring accusations forward. Furthermore, once an accusation is formally filed, a special congressional office is tasked with doing all in its power to keep the case out of court. Even if the accuser is able to go through counseling and mediation, the case may end up never being publicized as it stays out of courts. In other words, lawmakers often get off the hook even if their accusers are successful in taking action.

Making matters worse, settlements paid out to the brave accusers who make it through all of these steps do not fall on the individual attacker. Instead, the taxpayer ends up paying so that victims get the compensation they deserve, once again shielding the abuser from suffering real consequences.

As it seems, Congress has been more than successful in creating an environment where abuse may thrive, and that’s because they make their own rules.

It’s high time to pressure Congress to lead by example and have these rules reformed so that victims may come forward and be protected.

Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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