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Sexual harassment in the US Congress: the household begins

Ⓒ GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/Archives – MARK WILSON – | Senator Al Franken at a meeting in the Senate on November 13, 2017

The US Congress is starting to reform to deal with cases of sexual harassment inside the institution, after multiple accusations by women against incumbent parliamentarians.

Elected officials return Monday after their Thanksgiving holidays and vote Wednesday in the House of Representatives, to make mandatory anti-sexual harassment training for all elected officials and their employees. This training is now optional.

The leaders of the Congress are under pressure to react, quickly, to the unpacking of current affairs.

A Democratic senator, Al Franken, is being investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee for improper gestures and forced kissing. The Democratic Dean of the House, John Conyers, has been accused of harassment but refuses to resign. And President Donald Trump is supporting a Senate candidate at all costs, former ultra-conservative Roy Moore, accused of touching minors decades ago.

Ⓒ GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/Archives – SCOTT OLSON – | Republican candidate for Senate seat, Roy Moore, charged with sexual harassment, September 25, 2017 in Fairhope, Alabama

Several politicians, led by Democrat Jackie Speier and Republican Barbara Comstock, want to go further and reform a 1995 law on how victims inside Congress can report harassment and obtain redress.

This law was passed in less than two weeks in January 1995, by a unanimous vote. But the times have changed and the procedures established at the time are now denounced as obsolete and too much to the detriment of the plaintiffs.

The new rules proposed would speed up the internal procedure after a complaint, whereas today victims are obliged to resort to mediation as a first step. A Victim Advocate post would be created. The confidentiality clause would no longer be mandatory. Compensation payments would now come from the elected official responsible for harassment, whereas today it is the taxpayer who pays.

Most importantly, the list and amount of complaint settlements should be made public annually.

– Roy Moore persists –

“The system put in place in 1995 protected the stalker,” Jackie Speier told ABC Sunday. “One victim told me that the process was almost worse than the harassment itself.”

Ⓒ AFP – ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS – | US President Donald Trump in the White House Gardens, November 21, 2017

No party is spared from harassment, as John Conyers shows. The 88-year-old Detroit MP is a congressional legend, hero of the Black Civil Rights struggle. He denies any sexual harassment but has acknowledged the payment of compensation to settle a case with a former collaborator.

Criticized for an initial reaction that was deemed too lenient, House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi eventually declared that an elected official’s accomplishments, however important, did not give “a license to harass”.

But she did not call for her resignation … and John Conyers is determined to fight.

The Democratic leaders, however, want to exploit the Roy Moore affair to convince voters that they are the real advocate for women, the party that believes women.

They point to the behavior of Donald Trump who, defending Roy Moore, supports the line of defense of the candidate to treat her accusers of liars. As the billionaire had done about the ten women who accused him of harassment or worse, last year.

All Republican leaders and senators have cut off Roy Moore’s bridges, but fear he will be elected on December 12 during the Partial Senatorial of Alabama.

Several members of the majority seem to say that they would rather lose the Republican seat and see the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones, elected, rather than see Roy Moore join their ranks.

“I want to be on the right side of the story in this case,” said South Carolina Senator Tim Scott on ABC.

The tenant of the White House sees things in the shorter term: he needs as many Republican Senators as possible to get his tax reform adopted before the end of the year. The current Senate majority is 52 seats out of 100. No question of going down to 51, says the American president.

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