Ryan Plans Sex Harassment Training at Capitol After Complaints

(Bloomberg) -- House Speaker Paul Ryan said lawmakers and staff will undergo mandatory sexual harassment training after two congresswomen told a panel stories of misconduct by male members they said often goes unchecked.

Ryan’s statement Tuesday comes as sexual harassment in business and politics has become a front-burner issue in the U.S. The speaker said his office will work with the committees on administration, ethics and rules to craft the new policies.

"Our goal is not only to raise awareness, but also make abundantly clear that harassment in any form has no place in this institution," Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, said in the statement. "Today’s hearing was another important step in our efforts to combat sexual harassment and ensure a safe workplace. I want to especially thank my colleagues who shared their stories."

The announcement followed testimony from Representative Jackie Speier before a House committee in which she said she knows of two sexual harassers currently serving in Congress. The California Democrat also said she knows of incidents such as staff members being told to "be a good girl" and a male lawmaker exposing himself to a female staffer. In one case, she said, a female aide was groped on the House floor.

Representative Barbara Comstock, a Virginia Republican who spoke at the same hearing, said she was told recently of a staffer for a lawmaker who left her job after he exposed himself to her at his home.

Unnamed Lawmakers

Neither Speier nor Comstock identified the male lawmakers, and they didn’t specify whether their reports of a male lawmaker exposing himself involved the same man or two different men.

Capitol Hill’s reputation as a boys’ club has gained new attention amid new sexual misconduct claims against prominent men in the entertainment industry, business and politics. Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, 70, is being pressured by fellow Republicans to quit the race amid a growing list of women who say he made inappropriate advances or sexually assaulted them when they were teenagers. Moore has denied any improper conduct, although in a radio interview he didn’t rule out having dated teenagers when he was in his 30s.

"What are we doing here for women right now who are dealing with somebody like that?" Comstock asked during the hearing by the House Administration Committee. "People have named names and there is a renewed recognition, rightfully, of this problem and the need for change of a culture that looks the other way."

Speier’s Story

Speier, who shared on Twitter her story of being harassed while she was a congressional staff member, is leading a bipartisan push for stricter House rules on harassment. Her proposed resolution seeks to increase sexual harassment response and training requirements in Congress and to end what she said is a fear of "blackballing" people who report misconduct. "There is zero accountability and zero transparency," Speier said.

Congress has an unhappy history with sexual harassment and sex scandals. Senator Bob Packwood, the Republican chairman of the Finance Committee, resigned in disgrace in 1995 after the Senate Ethics Committee recommended his expulsion for making uninvited sexual advances to female staff members and lobbyists. The Washington Post said the allegations involved grabbing women and kissing them forcefully. He fought for three years to keep his seat.

In 1983, Representatives Dan Crane, an Illinois Republican, and Gerry Studds, a Massachusetts Democrat, were censured by the House for having affairs with teenage congressional pages. Studds, the first openly gay member of Congress, had an affair with a 17-year-old male congressional page a decade earlier and was re-elected in 1984. Crane, who’d had sex with a 17-year-old female page, lost his re-election bid.

Sex scandals have led to the resignations of other House members, including Republican Mark Foley of Florida, who quit in 2006 after reports that he sent sexually explicit internet messages to a teenage male page.

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