Congress Family Care

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., right, accompanied by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., speaks to reporters during a news conference about the Family Act, Tuesday, March 14, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Manuel Balce Ceneta

As women share accounts of sexual assault and harassment in their workplaces, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand wants to crack down on abuse in congressional offices. 

Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced legislation that would update the process for victims to report sexual harassment within the U.S. Congress Office of Compliance, an agency which is tasked with handling discrimination and harassment complaints from congressional employees. 

The bill would also designate an employee within the Office of Compliance who would be a confidential adviser for harassment victims. 

Annual sexual harassment training would be required for members of Congress and staff, interns could utilize the same resources as full-time employees and victims would no longer be required to participate in mediation before filing a complaint against a harasser. 

A climate survey would be required to analyze sexual harassment in Congress and offices would be mandated to post notices informing employees of their protections and rights. 

"Congress should never be above the law or play by their own set of rules," Gillibrand said. "The current process has little accountability and even less sensitivity to the victims of sexual harassment." 

Gillibrand unveiled her bill after an Associated Press report detailing sexual harassment against current and former women members of Congress. Former U.S. Rep. Mary Bono, a Republican from California, recalled how a congressman, who remains in office, made sexually charged comments to her on the House floor. 

One of Gillibrand's former colleagues, ex-U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, told the Associated Press that a male senator made a suggestive comment to her at a hearing. 

The revelations come as other stories are being told about sexual assault and harassment in other fields. Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has been accused by several women of inappropriate conduct. Kevin Spacey, an actor best known for his role as President Frank Underwood on "House of Cards," is accused of sexually assaulting or harassing eight of the show's current and former employees. 

A social media campaign, #MeToo, has featured stories of men and women recounting how they were sexually assaulted or harassed. 

"They are showing we can build a more just society for ourselves, our families and future generations by shining a light on injustice and saying we will not accept it anymore," Gillibrand said. 

Gillibrand, who has advocated for combating sexual assault on college campuses in the military, touted her bill's provisions. The climate survey, she noted, can "show the true scope of this problem" in Congress. 

The goal of the bill is to reform the sexual harassment policies and reporting guidelines in Congress, which she believes are "inadequate."

"We must ensure that this institution handles complaints to create an environment where staffers can come forward if something happens to them without having to fear that it will ruin their careers," she said. 

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