In the wake of the “Me Too” movement and the sexual harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein and many others, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., shared her own experience with sexual harassment to inspire other women on Capitol Hill to do the same. According to Speier, sexual harassment is a major issue in the halls of Congress, but very few people are talking about it.
In a video that went viral, Speier said that she was forcibly kissed by a congressional staff member early in her political career. She told ABC News that the man was Joe Holsinger, chief of staff for the late Rep. Leo Ryan, D-Calif. At the time of the incident, Holsinger was 50 while Speier was in her 20s. Holsinger died about 13 years ago.
Following Speier’s revelation, two female lawmakers came forward and accused sitting congressmen of sexual harassment. One is accused of exposing himself, leading a female staffer to quit her job. These recent allegations were discussed at a House hearing.
Now, Speier and a group of bipartisan lawmakers have introduced bills in the House and Senate that will allow women to hold their harassers accountable and take advantage of their legal rights to compensation without fear of repercussion. The goal of the legislation is to completely overhaul the sexual harassment complaint process on Capitol Hill and prevent future harassment.
A hostile work environment for far too long
In her video, Speier says, “Many of us in Congress know what it’s like because Congress has been a breeding ground for a hostile work environment for far too long.” In the past, she has pursued legislation that would make it easier for victims to report incidents of sexual harassment and assault.
Currently, the reporting process is long and cumbersome, requiring victims to participate in 30 days of counseling and then 30 days of mediation with their harassers before they can take legal action.
Congresswoman Speier and Attorney Allred
Earlier this year, Speier worked with attorney Gloria Allred to battle sexual harassment in the military. A nude photo-sharing scandal in the Marines Corps in which service members shared intimate images of other Marines without their permission spurred the women to join forces.
While the Facebook group at the center of the scandal was dismantled, Allred and Speier unveiled a bill to make it illegal for military members to share intimate pictures. Allred is also representing one of the victims of the photo-sharing scandal.
Undoubtedly, both Speier and Allred have made great efforts to spearhead the battle against sexual harassment and abuse. The #MeToo campaign and the Weinstein scandal started the conversation, but Allred, Speier and now Congress are working to ensure that something fruitful comes out of this national dialogue.