Custodians Sexually Harassed By Congress Members: report

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Back in December 2018, in the face of the #MeToo movement and multiple accusations of sexual harassment being committed by Congress members and their staff, a bill was passed to change the policies set forth by the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995.

However, if there was any hope of it becoming easier to report allegations of sexual harassment, it’s been snatched away after a revealing Inspector General report revealed sexual harassment was not being addressed adequately in the Architect of the Capitol (AOC). According to the Washington Post, the AOC “is responsible for operations on the Capitol complex.”

What the investigation found was that workers at night made claims they experienced sexual harassment, witnessed sexual harassment, and some were even exposed to pornography in actual Congress members’ offices.

At the beginning of the report, a brief list of their findings was included. One thing they found was that there was inadequate record keeping in regards to sexual harassment reports. That was described as:

‘Inadequate record keeping, no database automation or internal controls and lack of disclosure to the OIG prevented a full assessment.’

When reviewing a more detailed description of this finding, what it basically boiled down to is the AOC did not want to cooperate and missed deadlines for information requests. They also sent in responses that were scrubbed.

‘Both departments returned a carefully scrubbed response, in some cases incomplete to the point of being of little use. The AOC and the OOC were inhibited by their recordkeeping systems and cited the lack of automation as necessitating a manual file search. In addition, no standardized intake processes exist or are practiced to ensure that all appropriate metrics are collected at the onset of a complaint.’

From the description, it also sounds like the AOC really had no set procedure for taking a complaint from a victim.

In addition to this finding, they found there were 57 claims of sexual harassment from 2008 to 2018.

Interestingly enough, it was found that there were two repeat offenders who “may still be AOC employees.”

They also found there was a lack of understanding of what constitutes actual sexual harassment.

‘There is significant disparity between members of the staff about what constitutes sexual harassment. Cultural diversity amongst age groups, trades, genders, and other workforce metrics revealed the need for unified consensus, starting at the top.’

Starting at the top? So, the rich old guys need to get their heads out of their 1950 asses and realize you can’t slap a woman’s ass for being a good secretary. That’s what that sounds like, at least.

The report also noted victims were reluctant to report harassment because of retaliation. Also, it noted that some employees didn’t even know ways to report harassment.

‘Results from the questionnaires sent to employees, as well from leadership interviews, consistently identified a lack of institutional trust and a need for the agency to better clarify the AOC’s Avenues of Assistance. Some of the comments received reflect a need for basic communication improvements to help ensure that employees are aware that these venues exist.’

One answer to the staff questionnaire said this:

‘First, I did not even know there was such a thing called Avenues of Assistance, so I feel like there should be better outreach and awareness that these even exist as a set of multiple options for employees to go to for such things.’

Many complained that harassment came from senior leaders. Comments included:

‘I have found if you report anything about an ELT member, you are discouraged from filing a complaint and you are penalized if you say something.’

‘In my 11 years here, I have never experienced sexual harassment from anyone below upper management. I have only experienced harassment at the ELT level and that has not changed.’

‘The attitude at the ELT level needs to change. They should be accountable. Many of us were aware of [Recently Resigned Senior Executive’s] behavior before he became a superintendent, but the ELT ignored it.’

That last comment is quite interesting. There were reports of sexual harassment that were known, and the person still received a promotion.

One employee noted that she felt like she experienced casual sexism on a daily basis. Furthermore, another employee noted they had heard the phrase, “Boys will be boys.”

One employee noted during sexual harassment training, men were sitting playing on their phones. Another employee felt the training actually validated inappropriate behavior because it was still technically legal and only inappropriate.

‘Many left the training thinking inappropriate behaviors were “okay” just because they were technically legal. I think the training unintentionally validated inappropriate behavior.’

Great. So, the training that’s being done is doing the exact opposite of what it’s meant to do.

The report included many disappointing findings especially when Americans and federal employees were promised a change in the sexual harassment policies in the federal workplace. Boys will be boys, though, right?

Featured image: United_States_Capitol_-_west_front.jpg: Architect of the Capitolderivative work: O.J. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons