Women and men speaking out in Hollywood have revealed a plethora of actors who have engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior against others in their industry. Now, the epidemic seems to be shifting focus to include lawmakers in Washington D.C.
According to CNN interviews from more than 50 former and current Hill workers, an informal “creep list” is being passed around by female staffers, interns, and lawmakers in Congress, consisting of male members from both sides of the partisan divide. The list is not written out, but is passed along by word-of-mouth among women on Capitol Hill in an effort to protect one another from those on the said list.
Descriptions of what is happening are disturbing. Women have been advised, for instance, to avoid going on the private elevators alone with men to avoid gross encounters that have occurred therein. Others say they know better than to be around the men who make a habit of sleeping in their Congressional offices.
Women and men familiar with the “creep list” and other alarming behavior in Congress spoke to CNN anonymously, likely out of fear of political retribution. Indeed, some even described a sort of “sex trade” among their ranks — women who have either tolerated abusive behavior or have reciprocated advances from lawmakers and others in order to ensure their careers are safe.
A letter drafted by former Capitol Hill staffers, Kristin Nicholson and Travis Moore, asked for individuals to sign their names if they agreed that a problem of harassment existed in Congress. They said they expected maybe 100 signatures. Instead, they received more than 1,500.
“We believe that Congress’s policies for preventing sexual harassment and adjudicating complaints of harassment are inadequate and need reform,” the letter read.
And although the Senate last week passed a bipartisan resolution calling on its members and staffers to engage in anti-sexual harassment training, more must be done to combat the abuses that occur, Nicholson and Moore wrote.
As they wrote in their op-ed in The Washington Post:
"Staffers who do decide to pursue a complaint face an opaque and burdensome process. Hill offices are small and run largely as members see fit. There’s no internal HR department with whom to lodge a confidential complaint. Instead, such matters are handled by the Office of Compliance, an entity few staffers even know exists, let alone how to navigate. Sexual harassment complaints filed with the OOC require extensive counseling and mediation — steps experts say can discourage individuals from coming forward — before legal action can be pursued."
The authors are absolutely right to demand more be done. Anti-sexual harassment training is an important first step, and it’s a commendable one, too. It will help legislators — many who still have a “men’s world” misogynistic mentality — learn that their behavior is unacceptable, as well as encourage women to speak up when harassment does occur.
But such trainings won’t eradicate the problem entirely, and there must be tools available to help protect staffers and other women on Capitol Hill who feel threatened or find themselves on the receiving end of abuse. This cannot for one second be delayed any longer — the “men’s club” in Washington must be dismantled so that women can go to work without fear.