Given the allegations made today against Sen. Al Franken, you can’t help but wonder if the Senator has had any previous harassment claims made against him on Capitol Hill. But it seems the process set up for dealing with sexual harassment complaints is designed to be as discouraging and secretive as possible. Young staffers clearly aren’t relying on that process to improve the environment on the Hill, instead, CNN reports they maintain an unofficial “Creep List” of congressman to avoid:
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.
These are 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.
There is also the “creep list” — an informal roster passed along by word-of-mouth, consisting of the male members most notorious for inappropriate behavior, ranging from making sexually suggestive comments or gestures to seeking physical relations with younger employees and interns…
“Amongst ourselves, we know,” a former Senate staffer said of the lawmakers with the worst reputations. And sometimes, the sexual advances from members of Congress or senior aides are reciprocated in the hopes of advancing one’s career — what one political veteran bluntly referred to as a “sex trade on Capitol Hill.”
As Ed wrote last month, we don’t hear anything about sexual harassment on Capitol Hill thanks to a 1995 law which sets up an arcane process which requires accusers to undergo a month of counseling if they want to take someone to court. Victims of harassment or assault often don’t even know the process exists because there is no HR department in Congress to inform them.
If an accuser does manage to find their way to the Office of Compliance and make a complaint, they can eventually receive a settlement paid for by the taxpayers. A special fund has paid out 260 settlements totaling $15 million over the past 20 years. The fund handles all types of workplace discrimination issues, so the percentage of that total paid to victims of sexual harassment or misconduct is unknown. Also, the details of the claims are not reviewed, even by the senior leadership that approves the payouts. From CNN:
A source in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office told CNN that Ryan is not made aware of the details of harassment settlements. That source also said that the top Democrat and Republican on the House administration committee review proposed settlements and both must approve the payments.
Similarly, a source in Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office told CNN that Pelosi also is not made aware of those details, and that they are confined to the parties of the settlement and the leaders of the administration committee.
But the real kicker is that the majority of people who find their way to the Office of Compliance choose not to suffer through the lengthy, secretive process:
The number of settlements reached may not be indicative of how widespread sexual harassment is, as many victims chose not to proceed with OOC’s process for handling complaints. Tracy Manzer, a spokeswoman for Speier, told CNN last week 80% of people who have come to their office with stories of sexual misconduct in the last few weeks have chosen not to report the incidents to the OOC.
If the Weinstein company announced tomorrow that it was creating an Office of Compliance which would require anyone making a claim of harassment or assault to undergo weeks of private counseling to even have a chance at a settlement, I suspect plenty of people on Capitol Hill would find that shocking. And yet, this is the process Congress has set up for itself.
Because the list is unofficial and the process is secretive, it’s impossible to know if someone like Al Franken has already faced previous accusations. An article at Newsweek points out that, as a comedian, Franken certainly has done some material that would lead to problems in any other context:
Franken also brought up rape in a 1995 New York magazine article and detailed three-way sex with robots in a 2000 Playboy article during which he also discussed a well-known 60 Minutes reporter.
“And, ‘I give the pills to Lesley Stahl. Then, when Lesley’s passed out, I take her to the closet and rape her,’” Franken said. “Or, ‘That’s why you never see Lesley until February.’ Or, ‘When she passes out, I put her in various positions and take pictures of her.’”
The Playboy article was titled “Porn-O-Rama!” and in it Franken discusses creating an Institute for Pornographic Studies where he performed sex acts with humans and robots.
Again, these were jokes, but as we’ve seen with the Louis C.K. allegations, sometimes the line between someone’s act and real life is fairly thin. In fact, Franken is claiming what happened with Leeann Tweeden was a joke gone wrong. Has he made other jokes that went wrong in the past few years? It would be helpful to know but the process on Capitol Hill seems designed to prevent us from finding out.