By Joseph Batory
A CNN news report revealed on November 16 that there have been well over 200 cases of sexual harassment in the Congress of the United States during the past 20 years, many of them quietly settled with millions of dollars of taxpayer money. Worse yet, many other cases of this abuse involving interns, staffers and actual Congresspersons have simply disappeared via mediation so the total number of sexual misconduct cases is likely to be much larger. A long overdue internal Congressional committee investigation as well as a report from the Congressional Office of Compliance has revealed that more than $15 million has been paid out in settlements over a period of 20 years from 1997 to 2016 using taxpayer money! For women who work or have worked in Congress, these revelations offer a despicable portrait of their workplace as a perverse den of sexual harassment. In conversations with CNN, multiple women pointed to the elevators on Capitol Hill as a place where staff and members prey on women. But this Congressional sexual inappropriateness has extended well beyond elevators.
The documented harassment cases represent a new low in morality in our seat of government. And the number of settlements we are aware of may only be the “tip of the iceberg.” That’s because by some estimates, as many as 80% of the victims have chosen not to proceed with Office of Compliance process for handling complaints. This is not surprising because the Congressional rules, as revealed by The Washington Post, put an extreme amount of pressure on the victims rather than the lawmakers being charged with sexual harassment.
Here are the dictates of the Congressional Office of Compliance:
- Accusers can file lawsuits only if they first agree to go through months of counseling and mediation.
- Then, a special Congressional office is charged with trying to resolve the cases out of court.
- If after all of that, the lawmaker-harasser is found guilty and there’s a settlement, the perpetrator does not have to pay. Confidential payments come out of a special United States Treasury fund—your money and mine!
What is missing in all of this is “who.” How could this rampant sexual harassment be occurring in the Congress of the United States for so long without revelations about the names of all of the abusers? And how many of these abusers are continuing their employment today in the Congress of the United States. It is hard to believe here in the 21st century that, Congressional members and staff have not been required to learn the definitions and parameters of sexual harassment. Now, because of the breaking news, for the first time ever, the Senate and House of Representatives will require members and their aides to undergo training toward preventing sexual harassment.
So where is the Congressional uproar from the vast majority of its male members? Is the fraternity protecting its brothers? Whatever the case, this is an unprecedented sewer of hypocrisy and decadence and it is a disgrace to the United States of America.
Joseph Batory has been widely published on politics and education.