Congress Faces Pressure To Reveal Details Of Privately Settled Sexual Harassment Cases

“We say zero tolerance, but I don’t believe that we put our money where our mouths are.”

According to the New York Times, members of both the Democratic and Republican parties are urging Congress to end the culture of secrecy surrounding sexual harassment accusations within the United States government. Their plan includes reforming the ways that claims about misconduct are handled in private, often resolved in out-of-court settlements (using tax payer money), which protect abusers from public accountability.

The discussion comes in the wake of John Conyers stepping aside as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. Conyers is the longest-serving member of the House. He had recently been accused of inappropriate behavior towards women. He is now under investigation from the House Ethics Committee.

"I deny these allegations, many of which were raised by documents reportedly paid for by a partisan alt-right blogger. I very much look forward to vindicating myself and my family before the House Committee on Ethics," Conyers said in a statement.

“All of this, as difficult as it is in some respects for our society, is really important because I think it will end up changing people’s attitudes and changing our culture,” said Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio on Meet The Press.” “So I am glad it’s being discussed. I think it should be more transparent. I certainly think that if you accept taxpayer funds for settlement, that should be transparent.”

The House is also expected to pass a bill requiring all members to attend anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training. The Senate has already agreed to this training, as well.

However, creating legislation that would require transparency in situations pertaining to sexual misconduct will prove to be a more difficult challenge. With a push led by California Democrat Jackie Speier and Virginia Republican Representative Barbara Comstock, politicians are pushing to require sexual harassment suits to be handled publicly. (Whether or not this would retroactively compell cases already handled privately to be brought into the public remains a question.)

“It was a system set up in 1995 to protect the harasser,” Speier said on This Week. “We say zero tolerance, but I don’t believe that we put our money where our mouths are.”

[Photo of Jackie Speier: Getty Images]

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