Congress also behaving badly

First published November 16, 2017 in the Toronto Sun 

Congress is an institution for governing not a body for groping. Against the back drop of Hollywood’s exploding sex scandal of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and other powerful men preying upon female and child actors, America is learning that the men in the hallowed halls of the United States Congress are also behaving very badly.

GOP Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore’s alleged sexual misconduct with teenage girls ages 14 and 16 when he was in his 30s seems to have been the tipping point for women to speak out.

During a House Administration Committee hearing about sexual harassment in Congress, female members described in lurid detail how male members of Congress think its their right to objectify and fondle women like pieces of produce. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) described a chief of staff forcibly kissing her when she worked in Congress as a young staffer.

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) explained that someone told her in confidence about a member of Congress who asked a female staffer to deliver documents to his home after work. When the staffer arrived, her boss greeted her in a bath towel wrapped around his waist, which he promptly dropped to expose himself.

Just like the actresses in Hollywood, women in Congress have literally turned the other cheek without reporting harassment to save their careers.

The New York Times wrote about several former Capitol Hill staffers who describe a Lord of the Flies kind of environment reminiscent of pubescent boys. A senior male staffer tried “to tug open a junior aide’s wrap dress at a bar; a congressman grabbing a young woman’s backside.” Another House member told a female staffer “to twirl in a dress for him, then gave her a bonus when he liked what he saw.”

Senator Al Franken has been accused of sexual misconduct before he was elected to the Senate. KABC radio host Leanne Tweeden alleges that during a 2006 USO tour, when Franken was a comedian, he insisted that they practice a kiss for skit he wrote.

“We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth,” she recalled.

Franken didn’t stop there. On the cargo plane ride home from Afghanistan, Tweeden has a picture that a photographer took of Franken groping her chest while she was asleep.

About 1,500 former staffers signed a letter to leaders in the House and Senate demanding that Congress not only require sexual harassment training for all employees and members but also make it easier for victims to report claims to the Office of Compliance.

Current federal law makes it almost impossible for victims to win complaints against members or employees of Congress.

After a three-month waiting period, victims of sexual harassment can file a complaint with the Office of Compliance and then must undergo 30 days of mandatory counselling and complete 30 days of mediation. Many people don’t know the Office of Compliance exists.

In response to this tsunami of complaints, the Senate approved new rules mandating anti-harassment training for employees. The House introduced the Me Too Congress Act, a bipartisan bill aimed at making the complaint process easier. It also would require the Congress to publicize the names of Congressional offices that paid settlements to accusers in harassment cases.

Perhaps these actions may help neuter this “boys will be boys” mentality in Congress.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have also shown leadership by emphatically stating that they believe the women accusing Moore of sexual misconduct and that he should drop out of the race.

But President Donald J. Trump, who is usually a loquacious twitterer on a host of topics, has yet to weigh in personally on Moore’s alleged behaviour or the unchecked culture of harassment raging in Congress.

The president wasn’t shy about tweeting insults at Republican Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker when both announced they wouldn’t run for re-election. I’m sure the women in America are eager to hear where the president stands on sexual harassment and pedophilia.

 

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