The national groundswell of attention regarding sexual misconduct in the workplace has arisen as an issue in Congress. There are a few female legislators who have spoken or written about this problem in the past, but not until the recent Harvey Weinstein, et al, revelations surfaced have Capitol Hill women begun to come forward with their stories.

To put it into perspective, more than 50 lawmakers, aides and Washington, D.C., veterans described a climate of “constant harassment — both subtle and explicit” on Capitol Hill.

CNN quoted one woman who provided a few of the unwritten rules that some female lawmakers, staff and interns say they follow on Capitol Hill, where they say harassment and coercion is pervasive on both sides of the rotunda.

“Be extra careful of the male lawmakers who sleep in their offices — they can be trouble. Avoid finding yourself alone with a congressman or senator in elevators, late-night meetings or events where alcohol is flowing. And think twice before speaking out about sexual harassment from a boss. It could cost you your career.”

I have written in the past about workplace sexual misconduct. I am of the generation where most every working woman has some kind of story. Call me naïve, but I really thought the men doing the harassing would have wised up by now and cut it out.

New questions have arisen about how our government handles sexual misconduct complaints.

If a formal complaint is filed with the Office of Compliance, the accuser must first engage in 30 days of counseling — that’s the accuser who goes to counseling, not the harasser. After 30 days, they can drop the charge or choose to go into mediation with the person they are accusing.

During the mediation process, the accuser must sign a nondisclosure agreement, and the accuser must provide their own legal counsel while the person accused is represented by House lawyers.

What I’ll bet you didn’t know is that any agreed-to settlement amount comes out of the U.S. Treasury, not the offender’s pocket. Yep, we the taxpayers are the ones footing the bill for their outrageous behavior.

No wonder this totally inappropriate behavior continues. The perpetrators suffer no consequences.

So, what’s being done?

Sen. Kirsten Gilibrand and Rep. Jackie Speier are proposing bills in their respective chambers to address this long-ignored problem.

What can we do?

Well, we can shake our heads and be personally offended. We can be amazed that presumably smart men haven’t taken notice of the growing outcry from the people of the nation for justice, safety and an equal playing field in the workplace.

But until we all make our voices heard, it will be just another issue like the debt ceiling, health care reform/repeal/replace, tax reform, the deficit and myriad other issues that keep resurfacing and never get resolved.

Or we can contact our congressional representatives and demand action on this issue that has been ignored for too long.

Wendy J. Levenfeld is a published novelist, playwright and columnist from Chesterton. Send comments to wendylevenfeld@gmail.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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