Sexual harassment is so rampant on Capitol Hill that the U.S. Treasury has paid out millions to settle complaints, The Washington Post reported on Friday morning:
Between 1997 and 2014, the U.S. Treasury has paid $15.2 million in 235 awards and settlements for Capitol Hill workplace violations, according to the congressional Office of Compliance. The statistics do not break down the exact nature of the violations.
And these payments don’t even indicate the full scale of the problem. As Clio Chang reported for Splinter on Wednesday, the process of filing a sexual harassment complaint on Capitol Hill is designed to deter people from doing so:
The process for reporting harassment to the Office of Compliance works like this: Before employees can even file a complaint, they are required to go through 30 days of counseling (which they may seek to reduce), then 30 days of mediation, and then there is a 30 day “cooling off” period.
Congress’s inability to protect the women in its own offices will only further exacerbate the sense that women around the country cannot count on lawmakers to protect their rights. And the problem extends to the statehouses. A former chief of staff to Kansas Minority Leader Tom Burroughs told the Kansas News Service that sexual harassment “rose to a level which I found shocking.” Burroughs admitted there were “no formal procedures” in place for reporting harassment or assault.
Look into any sexual harassment scandal, and you’ll find similar negligence. As we’ve witnessed over and over in various civil rights struggles, rights don’t mean very much if they’re difficult for people to access.