Why is my tax money used to bail out sexual harassers?

We can fight all day long about who’s guilty and who’s not when it comes to sexual harassment/assault allegations – but there’s kind of a bigger story growing here, and it’s this, from Politico:

It has all the makings of a serious scandal: more than $17 million in public money paid since 1997 to settle workplace disputes on Capitol Hill . . . 

Um, what? 

Taxpayers – you and I – are doling out money to settle claims through the Congressional Office of Compliance, which pays out the settlements.  They don’t tell us who the offenders are or what the offenses are.  They don’t tell us how much the settlements are. They don’t break the cases down by category, or department – the Office of Compliance settles cases for “Hill employers other than the House and Senate, such as the Capitol Police and Architect of the Capitol.”  

As reported by Vox,

Since 1997, Congress has paid at least $15 million to settle complaints about sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act under the umbrella of the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) of 1995 . . . The process by which victims of sexual harassment on the Hill seek justice is long and arduous — it takes up to three months before a formal complaint can be filed. If a settlement is reached, it’s kept secret. The source of the money in the fund is excluded from the standard appropriations budget made public by Congress each year. There’s no process by which voters — or potential employees — can find out who the harassers in office are, what they’ve been accused of, or if they’ve settled with victims before . . . 

Not only does this secret process keep taxpayers in the dark about what bad behavior they’re funding and for whom, it also puts the complainants at a distinct disadvantage.  Vox noted that “Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who has proposed a bill to change how Congress handles harassment, the current process puts the employee making a complaint at greater risk than the person who has harassed them . . . Victims can’t even make a formal complaint for sexual harassment (or any other violation of the CAA) until three months have passed, including a 30-day period after enduring a mediation process with their harasser.” Interns aren’t even covered under this process which, as history has proven, really puts them at risk. 

It’s more than a bit telling that, as CNN reported, female lawmakers, staff and interns keep a “creep list” – which is just what it sounds like, “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.”  It is, apparently, open season on the most vulnerable. And who totes the note for these creeps? You and I.

What we’re seeing here is a governmental free pass to sexual harassers in Congress – and, according to those in the know, it’s rampant.  Knowing that their behavior won’t be publicly disclosed, including any settlements made as a result of it, serial harassers are emboldened, and victims are at risk.  As Vox reported,

Settlement payments are approved by the chair and ranking member of the House Administration Committee, but they are under no obligation to tell anyone else about those payments, and more importantly, which office was responsible for them . . . 

In a nutshell: A secret pot of money, funded by taxpayers, which bails out bad guys/gals, a “fix-it” process which is slanted toward the offender, not the victim, and, evidently, no consequences for the offenders.  We don’t know who they are or what they did, the victims aren’t supposed to talk about any settlements they get, and the offenders go on their merry way, unconcerned about pesky questions – and, from all accounts, free to rinse and repeat.

And to think, people don’t trust Congress.