Congress Attempts to Address the Way It Handles Sexual Misconduct

Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to modernize the way in which it handles internal issues of sexual misconduct.

The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act would change many of the aspects surrounding the reporting of and investigation into the filing of misconduct claims on Capitol Hill. Modifications include the elimination of “cooling off” periods, in which victims are prevented from seeking immediate justice in court, and the appointment of an attorney to those who elect to follow the internal Congressional process. Additionally, members of Congress who have been found guilty of harassment would be forced to reimburse the Treasury for settlements paid to victims by way of government funds. After the House passed the bill via a morning vote, specific immediate measures went into effect, including the prohibition of sexual relationships between congressional members and their employees, as well as the creation of the Office of Employment Advocacy.

 

The bill must now move to the Senate for a vote, where leaders like Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are calling for immediate action. Gillibrand stated in a recent letter: "The changes that need to be made are simple and urgent. The more time that goes by without addressing this broken system, the more people suffer." Having proposed legislation in 2017 to address misconduct, Gillibrand made clear her bipartisan support and the desire to place more power in the hands of victims and whistleblowers, adding, “Something must be done. The House acted, now it is time for the Senate to do its part."

The swiftness of this action is a bipartisan move rarely seen in this most recent Congress, yet likely comes on the heels of the wave of attention placed on accusations of sexual misconduct over the past five months. Scores of politicians have been called out for alleged workplace mistreatment, and it is no surprise that others looking toward re-election campaigns in 2018 want to remain on the right side of history by enacting meaningful change.