In recent weeks, the issue of sexual harassment in Congress has reached a fever pitch, part of a broader awareness-raising and calling to public account that's been happening throughout American culture. And according to a new report, congressional staffers are now seeking sexual harassment prevention training at a previously unheard-of rate.
As USA Today detailed on Saturday, the surge of requests and inquiries is being directed at the Office of Compliance (OOC), a once-obscure congressional office which has had its profile explode over the past couple of months. It's tasked with handling complaints of sexual assault and harassment from members of Congress and congressional staffers and aide alike, and according to Susan Tsui Grundmann, its executive director, it's been inundated with requests for information and training since November.
Grundmann reportedly told the House Administration Committee that such inquiries are up by triple-digit percentages in the last six weeks, a surge that's pretty clearly tied to the broader cultural moment regarding sexual predation, and the bubbling-up of allegations against different senators and representatives in both parties, like Democrats Al Franken and John Conyers, and Republicans Trent Franks and Blake Farenthold.
In response to the wave of allegations, some elected officials like Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand have spoken out, proposing new rules and protocols for members of Congress or their staffers to report such incidents, including mandatory sexual harassment prevention training. That idea was adopted by both the House and Senate in November, and it's now clear that an increasing number of people are now both seeking it out, as well as inquiring about how to report incidents.
According to Grundmann, the OOC has seen requests for in-person sexual harassment prevention training increase sharply, which raises the question of whether the office is adequately staffed and funded to accommodate the additional workload. Bustle has reached out to the OOC for comment.
To say that these issues are on the minds of members of congress, congressional staffers, and journalists alike would likely be an understatement. In addition to the high-profile allegations against elected officials like Franken, Conyers, Franks, and Farenthold ― the first three of whom have announced their departures from office, while the latter is facing a renewed ethics investigation ― there have been rumors swirling for days that additional reports with new accusations of misconduct are coming.
Democratic strategist Michael Trujillo, for example, tweeted earlier this week that sources have told him CNN and The Washington Post are working on stories that could allege misconduct against as many as 20 to 30 elected officials. Neil King, a former reporter with The Wall Street Journal, echoed Trujillo's claim, saying he's heard it could involve as many as 40 names.
On Friday, reports also revealed that Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida was involved in a hitherto secret sexual harassment settlement of $220,000 paid out six years ago. Hastings denies that he was ever made aware of the settlement, and told Politico he was "outraged" that taxpayer money had been used to pay his accuser. When the accusations first arose in 2011, Hastings denied them vehemently, calling them "ludicrous" and saying he was "insulted."
In the aftermath of Franken and Conyers departing from public life ― Franken will officially resign "in the coming weeks," as he said in a speech before the Senate ― many Democrats have also made of point of highlighting the slew of sexual assault and harassment allegations against President Donald Trump. Throughout the presidential campaign, more than a dozen women accused Trump of sexually predatory behavior, including non-consensual groping and kissing. Trump has flatly denied all the allegations against him, calling his many accusers "horrible, horrible liars."
In broad strokes, they're similar sort of allegations that derailed Franken's career, as well as the same kind of behavior Trump was caught boasting about on the infamous Access Hollywood tape last year. There has been renewed scrutiny on the accusations against the president as more Congress members are hit with sexual misconduct allegations. As that continues, it's unlikely that claims against Trump will fade anytime soon.