by Mel Dikert
On Thursday, November 9, a resolution was passed in the Senate that will require senators, their staff and their interns to go through mandatory sexual harassment training. The resolution was passed unanimously and “marks the first real step either chamber has taken to change training rules on sexual harassment for congressional offices,” said CNN. Including the interns in this resolution was “particularly noteworthy” due to the fact that this group is considered to be “especially vulnerable and lacking in protections” on Capitol Hill.
“Personally, I am surprised that there was not such a thing already in place,” says Mary Prachthauser (‘21). “I know of many workplaces that require sexual assault training. Even we as college students go through sexual assault training through Title IX.”
The passage of this resolution began with congresswomen—both current and former—publicly sharing experiences of sexual harassment on the job. According to CNN, just two days before the resolution was passed, two female lawmakers from the House accused current male lawmakers of “sexual harassment and misconduct.” Following that accusation was another which stated that “a male lawmaker exposed his genitals to a female staffer.” On the same day, Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, testified that “two currently sitting members of Congress… have ‘engaged in sexual harassment’ but have not yet been reviewed” while also mentioning that she has heard stories of “victims having their private parts grabbed on the House floor.” Speier recently went public with her own experiences of sexual assault that occurred while she was working as an aide decades ago.
Senators also considered changing current guidelines on how the Capitol handles harassment complaints because, according to Speier, anyone who wants to file a complaint has to go through a three-month process. “If someone wants to form a complaint,” Speier said, “they have to go through a month of legal counseling. … Then they go through mediation. And then they have to go through a one-month ‘cooling off’ period, all the while they are still required to work in that office that was a hostile work environment.”
“That’s pretty ridiculous that it takes three months for a complaint to go through, especially for something as serious as sexual harassment,” comments Cameron Donnelly (‘21), appalled at how much time the complaint process takes. “The harasser could assault that person again or assault someone else in that time. The process shouldn’t be that slow.”
According to Politico, however, the version of the resolution that eventually passed only covered the required training, though there is talk that the legislation will eventually require harassment training that also includes “discrimination based on race, religion, disability and other criteria.”
“Everyone deserves to feel safe and comfortable at work,” says Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), “and the passage of this official Senate policy is an important measure to ensure that’s the case in these halls.”