California lawmaker says she was harassed by congressional colleague

California lawmaker says she was harassed by congressional colleague
© Greg Nash

Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that she was harassed years ago by a fellow member of Congress who remains her colleague on Capitol Hill. 

Sánchez, now the vice chairwoman of the Democratic Caucus, declined to name the lawmaker and said she never filed an official complaint.

ADVERTISEMENT
But the harassment was enough that she developed a strategy of never being alone with her male colleague — never “to be near him” or “to be in an elevator with him,” she told reporters in the Capitol. And since then, she’s advised newer members to do the same.

“When you are new to a workplace, you don’t always understand what the policies and procedures are, or what the avenues for reporting those kinds of incidences are,” Sánchez said.

“Now I know you can file an ethics complaint,” she added. “Now, of course, through hindsight, we can look at the Harvey Weinstein [case], and you see hundreds of women who have very similar … stories. You can see a pattern; when it’s happening to you, you don’t have the benefit of the 30,000-foot view.”

Sánchez previously spoke to The Associated Press about a fellow lawmaker who propositioned her. She said that she avoided that lawmaker and advised others to do the same.

Sánchez’s revelation comes amid an outpouring of new sexual harassment complaints at workplaces across the country, sparked largely by last month’s New York Times report detailing a raft of harassment accusations lodged against Weinstein, who for decades was among the most powerful figures in Hollywood.

The cascade of complaints has also captivated Capitol Hill, where several other female lawmakers have cited experiences similar to that of Sánchez. 

Testifying before the House Administration Committee on Tuesday, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said she’s aware of at least two sitting lawmakers who have sexually harassed staffers. Speier has previously said that she was sexually assaulted by a chief of staff when she was a congressional staffer.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are now pushing legislation designed to rein in the abuse, including efforts to install mandatory sexual harassment trainings for all members and their staff.

Sánchez, for her part, said she sees the current debate as a tipping point in the effort to combat the problem.

“The sort-of flood-gates have opened in terms of the people who are willing to talk about their experiences, and we can all learn from that,” she said. 

“Many don’t come forward because of the fear of reprisal; the fear of losing their job and the economic impact of that; the fear of being blacklisted throughout their career,” she added. “And I think now is finally that turning point in our country where people are starting to take complaints seriously, and people are starting to agitate for a fairer process for those who have been the victims.”