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Lawmakers introduce "Me Too" bill targeting harassment in Congress

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) & Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) speak at a press conference on sexual harassment in Congress. Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced a bill Wednesday aimed at streamlining the response to sexual harassment in Congress. The "Me Too" Act calls for more transparency, an overhaul of the flawed complaint process, and better support for victims.

Key quote: "There is a serious sexual harassment problem in Congress, and too many congressional offices are not taking this problem seriously at all," said Gillibrand.

Get smart: The rules on Capitol Hill regarding sexual assault require an extensive reporting process, and several critics argue the that the system values the institution over the victims.

  • For someone who works on Capitol Hill, pursuing a harassment hearing or filing a lawsuit against a congressman or staff member first requires counseling through the Office of Compliance. The counseling can take up to 30 days, and informs the accusers of their legal rights.
  • Next they must undergo mediation with the person they are accusing, during which they sign a nondisclosure agreement. The accuser is required to provide their own legal counsel, while the accused gets a House lawyer.
  • After another 30-90 days, referred to as the "cooling off" period, the accuser can file an official complaint.
  • Take note: Interns and fellows do not have access to this process.

Yesterday, Speaker Paul Ryan announced that the House will require anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all members and their staffs. The Senate introduced similar legislation last week. Speier said move is "a good first step, but much more is needed to fix the broken complaint system that values the institution over individuals."