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Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment, and Congress: What You Need to Know



     Sexual assault and harassment are two very difficult topics, and more often than not are not really addressed. Their definitions tend to be vague. The legal definition for sexual harassment is: “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment” (from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). The law includes offensive remarks about a person’s sex– although this is very unclear, and not specific. All of this is encoded in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.                                                                                                Trump has been accused of both sexual assault and harassment

     Sexual assault is defined by the US Department of Justice as, “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape”. However, the definition of sexual assault can vary according to state. This is problematic, as sometimes some of the cases involving sexual assault can have different outcomes in different states. There are three kinds of sexual assault: penetration crimes, contact with genitalia or other intimate body parts, and exposure of genitalia or other intimate body parts.

                                                                          Democrat from Nevada Ruben Kihuen has been accused of sexual harassment.

     How does Congress itself, our representatives in government, the lawmakers, deal with sexual assault and harassment? Not very well. In 1995, a new process was created to address these issues. Before, there had not even been one. The process created is not transparent at all, and is extremely problematic. When someone accuses a congressperson of sexual assault or harassment, there is a 90-day “cool-down period” where the accuser is counseled, while (more often than not) continuing to work. Nothing happens to the person accused of the offense– they just continue on. After this, a Congressional committee decides whether or not to put the case up for mediation. If the case is taken up, then the victim has to sign a nondisclosure agreement. This leads to some sort of settlement, and the perpetrator walks off free. In fact, our taxes pay the settlements. More than seventeen million dollars in taxpayer money has been spent on these settlements since 1997. This process is ridiculous and does not help the victim at all.

     A lot has come out recently on sexual assault and harassment, and it is important to know what is happening, both on and off campus. If you have had experienced sexual assault or harassment or know someone who has, the Wellness Center and OASIS are both places to seek help. Remember– it is never the victim’s fault.

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Lucy Opalka

American '20

Lucy is a Junior majoring in International Studies and minoring in Women's/Sexuality Studies at American University. She is from a small town in Massachusetts, and is always on the lookout for nature in the city. 
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