She praised her Bay Area colleague for speaking up.
“It empowered people, and she just opened a floodgate,” Lofgren said.
But when she was accosted in 1973, there weren’t any official channels to report what had happened — and even the term “sexual harassment” hadn’t entered the vernacular. As wave after wave of sexual harassment revelations hit Hollywood and the media this fall, Speier shared her story in a You Tube video.
She looked directly into the camera, urging other congressional staffers to come forward with their experiences with harassment and blasting the “breeding ground for a hostile work environment” that she says Congress has become.
“I think we probably will have momentum on her bill.” As a California state assemblywoman and senator from 1986 to 2006, Speier wrote legislation mandating sexual harassment training.
She said the recent allegations of sexual harassment in Sacramento — where almost 150 women recently wrote a letter decrying a culture of harassment — were disturbing.
Speier is now the lead sponsor of a bill that would reform the Office of Compliance, the obscure congressional office that investigates — and, activists say, often covers up — sexual harassment.
Victims of harassment in Congress who want to report their experiences have to go through a byzantine process, submitting to mandatory counseling, signing a nondisclosure agreement and waiting months before an investigation into their claims even begins.
She also tried to add in more funding in the legislative budget for the compliance office to do more outreach, only to have that money removed in later revisions.Now, four and a half decades later, the Peninsula congresswoman is leading the charge in Congress to clean up what she calls a culture of sexual harassment in the Capitol.Since she went public with her story in late October, she’s been thrust into the national spotlight, introduced legislation to streamline harassment reporting procedures, testified at hearings on the topic and shed light on the big settlements paid out with taxpayers’ money to silence harassment complaints.She made headlines in 2011 when she gave an impromptu speech on the House floor about having an abortion in the early 1990s after doctors told her she was losing a baby that she desperately wanted.In 1988, Speier became the first California legislator to give birth while in office.
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“I’m embarrassed to say it, but I think Congress has been an enabler of sexual harassers for a long time,” Speier, a Democrat who represents San Mateo County, said in an interview this week.