One current and three former female lawmakers have come forward to allege that they’ve been subject to harassment by their fellow members of Congress — including hostile sexual comments, repeated unwanted advances and even inappropriate touching on the House floor.
Former GOP Rep. Mary Bono of Ohio, who served 15 years before being defeated in 2012, is one of the four women who shared stories of alleged misconduct with the Associated Press.
Bono alleges one male colleague repeatedly harassed her, and one time even told her on the House floor that he’d been thinking about her in the shower.
Bono declined to identify the lawmaker, whom she said still serves in Congress, noting that his alleged behavior stopped after she finally confronted him one day on the House floor.
“Instead of being, ‘How’s the weather, how’s your career, how’s your bill,’ it was, ‘I thought about you while I was in the shower,’ ” Bono said. “So it was a matter of saying to him, ‘That’s not cool, that’s just not cool.’ ”
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Former California Sen. Barbara Boxer said she’s also been the victim of harassment, detailing an incident at a hearing in the 1980s where a male colleague made a sexually suggestive comment about her from the dais. The remark, she said, was met with laughter from some lawmakers — and an endorsement from the committee chairman.
“This is about power,” Boxer said. “It’s hostile and embarrasses, and therefore could take away a person’s power.”
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Democratic Rep. Linda Sanchez of California said that when she was a new member of Congress in her early 30s, a more senior member who was married “outright propositioned her” repeatedly.
“Despite trying to laugh it off and brush it aside, it would repeat. And I would avoid that member,” Sanchez said, adding that she warned other new female members about the lawmaker. Sanchez declined to identify the lawmaker but said he is still in Congress.
Sanchez also said that another male colleague repeatedly leered at her, and at one point groped her on the House floor, while trying to make it look like an accident. She declined to identify the lawmaker but said he was no longer in Congress.
The congresswomen’s allegations come amid staggering allegations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein sexual assaults on numerous women, as well as accusations from Capitol Hill staffers of harassment by lawmakers and aides. (A rep for Weinstein tells PEOPLE in a statement that “any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein.”)
Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California launched a #MeTooCongress campaign last week to raise awareness about sexual harassment and assault on Capitol Hill, and alleged that the late Joe Holsinger, while he was chief of staff for then-Rep. Leo Ryan, forcibly kissed her when she was a congressional staffer, The Washington Post reported.
The AP said that none of the female lawmakers interviewed reported the incidents, though some said it was unclear how to make such a complaint. The Washington Post reported that lawmakers must go through a lengthy and complicated process to file harassment complaints against other members or staffers.
Former Democratic Rep. Hilda Solis of California told the AP that her solution to repeated harassment from one unnamed lawmaker was to try to “ignore it, turn away, walk away.”
“Obviously it’s offensive,” said Solis, who left Congress in 2009 to serve as former President Barack Obama’s labor secretary. “Are you supposed to be flattered? No, we’re adults.”