CEDAR RAPIDS — As more information comes out about sexual harassment by members of Congress and their staffs, Sen. Chuck Grassley wants to improve the protocols for reporting and handling those allegations.
Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, recently co-sponsored a resolution with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., requiring members of Congress and staff members to complete previously voluntary sexual harassment training within 60 days.
“Our legislation was simply to make sure that it was mandatory in every office, so at least you would do what prevention you can do,” said Grassley, who has required the training for all of his staff members.
The resolution, which was unanimously adopted, requires a certificate of completion to be published on the Secretary of the Senate’s website.
Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, a co-sponsor of the resolution, said it’s “critical that Congress has zero tolerance for such inappropriate behavior.”
Since passage of the training requirement, however, Grassley said what he’s learned makes him think the process for reporting sexual harassment is flawed.
“The process they have to go through is ridiculous and works against the interest of the victim,” he said. “I think you’ve got to assume everyone is innocent until they are proven guilty, but right now it looks pretty ridiculous for the victim.”
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He also was critical of the way sexual harassment claims have been kept from the public through confidentiality agreements and a secret congressional fund reportedly used to pay $17 million in settlements for sexual harassment and other claims over the past 20 years.
“You have to sign a nondisclosure statement just to get justice? It doesn’t make sense,” Grassley said. “That’s what we’re going to have to look into.”
He agreed with Iowa Republican Rep. Rod Blum and Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack that the secret fund should be abolished and the settlements, including names of sexual harassment perpetrators, be made public.
“This sort of behavior is outrageous and can’t be tolerated,” he said. “We have to fight sexual harassment wherever it comes up.”
According to RollCall.com, which pulled numbers from the congressional Office of Compliance for the past 10 years, the highest number of harassment or hostile workplace complaints was 113 in 2011. That was roughly one-third of the 333 complaints in that time frame.
There were 15 harassment or hostile work environment complaints discussed during the OOC’s formal complaint process in fiscal 2016 — the lowest annual total of the years Roll Call analyzed. Overall, 83 complaints were filed last year. They include training, leave, discipline as well as harassment. Nineteen came from employees in the Architect of the Capitol, 18 from Capitol Police and a total of eight from the House and Senate.
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