Rep. Jacki Speier (D-CA) has released a video to announce her claim of sexual harassment while working as a congressional staffer.
“Like so many of you, I have a ‘me too’ experience to share,” Speier said in the video.
Speier said that Joe Holsinger, who was chief of staff for Rep. Leo Ryan (D-CA), “kissed me and put his tongue in my mouth.”
Although Speier did not name Holsinger in the video, she confirmed to ABC that he was the man she referred to in it.
Holsinger, who died in 2004, was around 50 at the time; Speier in her 20s, according to ABC.
“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,” Speier said in the video.
“I know what it’s like to keep these things hidden deep down inside,” Speier said. “I know what it’s like to remember that rush of humiliation and anger.”
Speier said she is launching #MeTooCongress to encourage other women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to speak out so that the problem can be addressed.
But it won’t be easy because of the rules Congress has put in place.
Sexual harassment claims on Capitol Hill are handled by the Congressional Office of Compliance, under the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995. A staffer has 180 days after the alleged incident to file for counseling.
After 30 days of counseling, the employee can request private mediation with their office to resolve the matter.
If the employee and the office can’t reach a resolution, there are two options to pursue: an employee can either file an administrative complaint and have their case heard by a hearing officer in a private setting, or file a lawsuit in federal district court.
The Washington Post reported that even if a lawsuit is successful, the perpetrator isn’t on the hook for financial compensation:
When settlements do occur, members do not pay them from their own office funds, a requirement in other federal agencies. Instead, the confidential payments come out of a special U.S. Treasury fund.
Congressional employees have received small settlements, compared with the amounts some public figures pay out. Between 1997 and 2014, the U.S. Treasury has paid $15.2 million in 235 awards and settlements for Capitol Hill workplace violations, according to the congressional Office of Compliance. The statistics do not break down the exact nature of the violations.
Another House Democrat, Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), has introduced the Congressional Sexual Training Act, which would require that staff receives guidance on sexually harassment and assault.