House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in an interview published Saturday that Capitol Hill workplace sexual harassment policies need to change.
Pelosi told The Associated Press that Congress’s tendency to self-police and unequal standards between offices for appropriate behavior need to end.
“I think we are at a tipping point in our country,” she said. “For a long time the Congress was a place where every congressional office had its own rules. … The system needs to be changed.”
Her comments come in the wake of accusations against Democratic donor and film mogul Harvey Weinstein that have sparked a wave of sexual harassment and assault revelations in various industries, including in state and national legislatures.
Complaints of inappropriate behavior on Capitol Hill are handled by the Office of Compliance, which requires a lengthy mediation period. This week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) filed a bill that would streamline the system to handle such complaints and allow congressional interns the same resources as regular staffers.
“Congress should never be above the law or play by their own set of rules. The current process has little accountability and even less sensitivity to victims of sexual harassment,” Gillibrand told the AP.
In a separate statement Friday, Gillibrand said her bill would allow staffers to report inappropriate conduct without fear it will “ruin their careers.”
“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,” Gillibrand said in a statement.
“You see time and again in institutions all around the country … a culture where power and fear keep sexual assault and sexual harassment in the shadows. Congress is no different,” she added.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) urged House members on Friday to undergo sexual harassment awareness training and mandate it for their staffs. It is currently offered by the Office of Compliance, but not required.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also sent a letter to Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the top members of the Rules Committee, requesting that they make sexual harassment training mandatory.
In a statement to The Washington Post, Shelby said that “Senator Klobuchar and I are working closely with our colleagues to address the issue in the most effective manner.”