Democrats call on Blinken to set new sexual misconduct policies at State Department
House Democrats are pushing for Secretary of State Antony Blinken to set new policies regarding sexual harassment and assault at the State Department.
“For years, civil service and foreign service officers have spoken out about misconduct, including sexual harassment and assault, and a lack of accountability for such misconduct at the Department,” lawmakers wrote in a letter sent Tuesday.
The push is being led by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who has spearheaded other efforts to address sexual harassment and assault in the federal government. In 2017, Speier went public with her own experiences with sexual harassment and assault as a young congressional staffer.
Speier, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, sent the letter with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), another senior member of the panel, which has oversight of the State Department.
The letter details specific steps that were included in legislation introduced last year and authored by Speier, Castro and former Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who at the time was chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The bill, called the State Harassment and Assault Prevention and Eradication (SHAPE) Act, sought to enact stronger anti-harassment and discrimination policies and provide resources and better survivor care and accountability at the State Department.
“For too long, ‘pale, male, and Yale’ has been the ethos at the State Department,” Speier said in a statement to The Hill. “I have had multiple meetings with State Department diplomats who have endured harrowing experiences abroad and at home from within the State Department, which suggests a longstanding culture of indifference and hostility.”
The congresswoman added that the department “can and must act now” and highlighted findings from a September Office of Inspector General report that found sexual assault increased by 71 percent at the State Department between 2014 and 2017, and sexual harassment had increased by 63 percent.
“With a new Administration comes new hope for progress in ensuring safety, dignity and respect in the workplace,” Speier said in her statement.
Speier is expected to reintroduce the SHAPE Act this year but is calling on Blinken to enact certain provisions of the bill immediately.
Those provisions include putting in place guidelines for employees when they report sexual harassment and assault and carrying out employee surveys assessing the prevalence of harassment, discrimination, sexual assault, instances of retaliation and comfort with reporting and resolution mechanisms.
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