The dam appears to have officially broken on stories of sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill. Last week, the Associated Press provided accounts from four current or former female lawmakers who said they experienced forms of sexual harassment from fellow lawmakers during their time in office. Tuesday, CNN published a report that cites “more than 50 people” who have worked on Capitol Hill who paint a consistent picture of rampant sexual harassment and misconduct at the hands of the political elite.
CNN reports that it spoke with “more than 50 lawmakers, current and former Hill aides and political veterans who have worked in Congress,” and found, “[w]ith few exceptions, every person said they have personally experienced sexual harassment on the Hill or know of others who have.”
In an environment with “so many young women,” said one ex-House aide, the men “have no self-control.” “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.”
These anecdotes portray a workplace where women are subjected to constant harassment — both subtle and explicit. They also highlight an antiquated reporting system that discourages some victims from speaking out, leaving many professionals on the Hill to rely instead on hushed advice from peers and mentors.
Multiple sources described a “creep list” that is whispered among women on Capitol Hill of those male congressional members who are “notorious for inappropriate or predatory behavior.” That unwritten list, the sources told CNN, is mostly made up of members of the House of Representatives.
CNN notes that two particular congressmen — one from California and one from Texas — were independently named by several of the sources as infamous for pursuing women, but the outlet has chosen to withhold the two congressmen’s names because the accounts are as of yet “unverified.”
CNN also notes that some women tolerate men’s advances and “even reciprocate them” in order to “climb the ladder.”
“There’s a little bit of a sex trade on Capitol Hill. If a part of getting ahead on Capitol Hill is playing ball with whatever douchebag — then whatever,” one unnamed “female political veteran” told CNN.
Several sources told CNN that particularly notorious sites of harassment are the elevators, “a place where staff and members prey on women and say they have been advised to avoid riding alone with men if possible.”
Perhaps the biggest source of the problem, the report suggests, is the “unique lifestyle” engendered in D.C.:
Many male members are far away from their families, including their spouses, during the week, frequently working late nights and attending evening fundraisers and events where alcohol flows freely. Often, they are staffed by younger, female employees. Some members of Congress forgo a Washington-area apartment and sleep in their offices, a practice several sources highlighted as problematic.
One aide who works in the Senate described Capitol Hill as “a sort of old school, Wild West workplace culture that has a lot of ‘work hard, play hard’ ethos and without the sort of standard professionalism that you find in more traditional workplaces.”