Congress Scrambles to Protect Its Members From Paying Sex Harassment Claims

By Richard Morris & Eileen McGann

November 30, 2017 3 min read

Senators and congressmen are pushing for a flurry of measures whose overt purpose is to reform how Congress handles sexual harassment complaints. But the real purpose of this outpouring of outrage is to protect the slush fund that pays any fines that eventuate from harassment claims while, at the same time, seeking to insulate them publicly by calling for reform.

The fund, created by Congress, is managed by the Office of Compliance established in 1995, and run by a five member nonpartisan board appointed by the Congressional leadership. Over the past 20 years, the office has awarded $17 million to compensate victims of sexual harassment and discrimination by members of Congress. The OCC does not break out how many of these claims were for sexual harassment and how much for complaints regarding racial and religious discrimination, as well as discrimination against people with disabilities.

This fund, amounting to something between a Get Out of Jail Free card and a Papal indulgence, does not reveal the names of the offending Congressmen or their victims, supposedly to protect the victims' confidentiality. But protecting the Congressman's political career might have something to do with it, too.

Now members of Congress are falling all over themselves to reform this process, But with the sole exception of Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-Calif., nobody has fingered the need to eliminate the OOC fund and the protection if affords to offenders. So when a congressman or senator commits sexual harassment, the ensuing expenses are all paid by the taxpayer.

Congressmen and senators are attempting to maintain the protection for offenders under the cloak of helping the victims. Proposals abound for sensitivity training on sexual harassment, allowing victims more time to file complaints and changing the evidential rules to help the victims. But nobody, other than Speier, has zeroed in on holding members of Congress responsible to their own actions.

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