Women, Dems leading sexual harassment discussion in Congress: analysis
Female and Democratic lawmakers are both minorities in Congress, but a new report shows that they’ve been the most outspoken about sexual assault and harassment.
An analysis conducted by Quorum, a Washington, D.C.-based legislative and public affairs tracking firm, found that women account for more than half of the dialogue about sexual misconduct this year, while comprising only 20 percent of Congress.
Quorum analyzed 2,615 press releases, floor statements, constituent newsletters and social media posts from campaign and official accounts as of late Monday afternoon for discussion of sexual assault and harassment.
The analysis found that women in Congress made up 53 percent of the discussion about sexual harassment and assault, while men made up 47 percent.
A total of 89 women, including non-voting delegates, serve in the House, compared to 352 men. Across the Capitol, the 100-member Senate has only 21 women.
The likelihood of a lawmaker speaking out about sexual assault and harassment was even more stark by partisan affiliation. Quorum found that Democrats made up 74 percent of discussion about the issue, while Republicans accounted for only 26 percent.
Quorum provided The Hill with data updated as of late Monday afternoon with 21 more lawmaker statements since its original study conducted last week that still showed the same overall findings.
Female lawmakers have been leading the legislative efforts to reform Capitol Hill’s workplace harassment and discrimination policies in recent weeks.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced bipartisan legislation called the “ME TOO Congress Act” — borrowing the popular hashtag that helped ignite discussion about sexual harassment in recent weeks — to overhaul the current process available to staff to report harassment.
Before introducing her bill, Speier had posted a video sharing her own experience: while she was working as a congressional staffer in the 1970s, a chief of staff forcibly kissed her, she said.
Other female lawmakers have also shared their experiences of sexual harassment in recent weeks.
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) told MSNBC last week that former Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) tried to pin her against an elevator door and kiss her. And Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) told The Associated Press that she had been sexually harassed by two male colleagues since she began serving in the House, one of whom she said is no longer in Congress.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee, co-authored a resolution that the Senate adopted earlier this month to require sexual harassment awareness training for members and staff. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) were also involved in the resolution’s introduction.
The House is set to adopt a similar resolution requiring anti-harassment training for its members and staff on Wednesday. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) is the chief sponsor of the measure.
That’s not to say female lawmakers are the only ones pushing legislation to overhaul Capitol Hill harassment policies. Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) plans to introduce a bill this week that would prohibit the use of taxpayer dollars to settle sexual harassment claims involving lawmakers or congressional staff, require any lawmaker named in a settlement to reimburse taxpayers and make public all settlement payments funded by taxpayers.
The Office of Compliance released data earlier this month showing that more than $17 million in settlements were paid out to victims, which included cases apart from sexual harassment like racial or religious discrimination. Settlements are paid out by a special fund operated by the Treasury.
However, BuzzFeed reported last week that a former staffer to Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) who accused him of sexual harassment was paid a more than $27,000 settlement from his taxpayer-funded office instead of the Treasury fund. Conyers has denied wrongdoing and said the settlement was made to avoid protracted litigation.
Conyers has since stepped aside from his position as ranking Democrat on the powerful House Judiciary Committee. Only one lawmaker — female Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice (N.Y.) — has called for Conyers to resign altogether.
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