The #MeToo movement has taken multiple industries by storm by exposing perpetrators of sexual violence and changing the rules for people trying to report their sexual assaults. One such rule change happened in Congress last November. Representative Jackie Spier (D-Calif.) introduced the MeToo Congress Act to the House of Representatives, which now has bipartisan support. This important and desperately needed bill would completely change how sexual assault is reported and handled in Congress.
Previous accusations were handled under the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act and processed by the Office of Compliance, but this new legislation changes a few major things. An NPR article outlined the multiple changes as:
- Waiving thirty-day requirements each for counseling and mediation sessions before a formal complaint can be filed
- Creating a new optional in-house victims’ counsel position to provide legal advice and representation for complaints
- Eliminating requirements that complainants to sign nondisclosure agreements as a condition for filing a complaint
- Creating an online system to initiate complaints
- Requiring public disclosure of the employing office when a claim is settled and to disclose the settlement amount
- Requiring an anonymous “climate survey” of congressional employees every two years
- Extending all employer protections to interns, fellows, and pages
The comprehensive overhaul of outdated reporting methods is a promising sign of change in a government that has tried to keep complainants quiet. The Senate and the House have been receptive to this kind of legislation and have put mandatory sexual harassment training in place, but the public is still looking to see this bill officially be passed and enforced meaning the problems are not fixed yet. The system in place now works against the victim and, previously, Office of Compliance mainly protected lawmakers from being exposed of committing sexual harassment. There have been 260 settlements from the Office of Compliance for sexual assault and harassment cases in the last 20 years that has cost taxpayers $15 million dollars.
Change is coming, but we as the public must hold our representatives accountable to make sure that important and necessary legislation gets passed. The problems have just started to be addressed, but the public should not let it stop by being aware of important legislation such as this.