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WASHINGTON — Rep. Jackie Speier told a House panel on Tuesday that she knows of two current members of Congress — a Democrat and a Republican — who have engaged in sexual harassment, further exposing an institution that has been accused of looking away from sexual misconduct.
Speier, a California Democrat, said the harassment ranged from "propositions such as, ‘Are you going to be a good girl?’ to perpetrators exposing their genitals, to victims having their private parts grabbed on the House floor."
Speier did not name the two representatives as part of her testimony at a high-profile hearing on workplace sexual harassment in Congress.
Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., a member of the committee, also shared a story she said she had been told recently about an encounter one unidentified female staffer had with her boss, a current member of Congress.
Comstock said the woman had been asked to drop off materials at his house, and he answered the door in a bath towel and proceeded to expose himself. Comstock said she did not know the identity of the congressman but said that the woman had quit her job as a result.
“We need to know more examples of what’s actually happening to make it easier for the victims to come forward,” Comstock said. “It’s important to name names.”
Following the hearing Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a statement saying all staff and members will be required to take anti-sexual harassment training.
"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 said. "I want to especially thank my colleagues who shared their stories."
Speier had introduced legislation to do just that and the Senate instituted the same rule on Monday, just one working day after the Senate unanimously passed a resolution requiring mandatory sexual harassment training.
The hearing by the House Committee on House Administration was called to examine sexual harassment policies on Capitol Hill, where each office has its own handbook on what’s unacceptable and the only reporting outlet for victims is antiquated, cumbersome and tilted to benefit the accused, according to Speier and other members.
“The system we have in place is not working,” Speier told NBC News. “The Office of Compliance does not protect the victim, it protects the accused. And we’ve got to change that.”
The momentum to tamp down sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill, which the Congressional Management Foundation acknowledged is vastly underreported, comes as the issue of harassment has rocked other institutions, particularly the entertainment industry.
Speier launched the #metoocongress campaign and told her personal story about being sexually assaulted by her chief of staff when she was an aide in her 20s.
Both Comstock and Speier emphasized that members of Congress, not just staff, must receive the training and be subject to stricter rules.
“I appreciate mandatory sex harassment training for all the members — I emphasize the members,” Comstock said.
The process is long and involved, especially when the accused is a member of the House or Senate.
A staffer from either chamber can file a complaint with the Office of Compliance to begin a 30-day legal counseling period followed by mandatory 30-day mediation and 30-day “cooling off" periods. At that time the victim can file a case in federal court, which would take about 700 days for a resolution or open an administrative case that could take another 180 days.
If the accused is a member of Congress, he or she is represented by lawyers in the Office of House Employment Counsel, or the Senate's Chief Counsel for Employment. And if there’s a settlement in favor of the victim, the taxpayers pay, not the individual member.
Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., who has been an employment lawyer for 30 years, says that Congress must get in line with what the private sector does on sexual harassment.
“We should consider a universal harassment policy,” Byrne said, adding that Congress needs “to increase member accountability.”
“It is my opinion that given the inherent power differential between a member and their staff that they supervise, we should include a strict prohibition on members engaging in sexual relationships with their staff under their direct supervision,” Byrne said.
Some who testified in the hearing on Tuesday struck a similar cord.
"Sexual harassment is often about power," Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said. "It's not just about sex — it's about abuse of power."