In a week where female lawmakers have come forward to share their experiences with sexual harassment in Congress, a new startling number also came to light.
In a 20-year period between 1997 and 2016, the Congressional Office of Compliance paid out over $15 million in settlements for a range of offenses including sexual harassment and discrimination, CNN reported. The bill for settlements paid out in response to inappropriate conduct by members or their staff is footed by American taxpayers.
According to Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), that $15 million sum is the total of 260 settlements in that period. Speier is currently fighting to reform the process for filing a sexual harassment complaint on Capitol Hill.
“For all intents and purposes, a staffer in the Capitol is powerless and gagged,” Speier said at a Wednesday press conference. “Since I shared my own story ... I've heard from survivors that they have been personally, professionally, emotionally and financially destroyed by the current process. Meanwhile, the harassers go on with his or her life, oftentimes to prey on others.”
Outside of the total payment and the number of settlements, not much else is known about the nature of these settlements. The Office of Compliance does not provide any publicly available information detailing which settlements were for sexual harassment or which were for discrimination complaints.
According to CNN, not even House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) or House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) are informed of the details of these settlements. Speaker Ryan's office informed CNN that the House administration committee is currently conducting a review of harassment and discrimination in the Capitol.
While the numbers we do know about sexual harassment on Capitol Hill are startling, they still don't paint a complete picture of the pervasive problem in the legislature, according to CNN:
And 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.
As more attention is paid to sexual harassment in Congress, more troubling stories continue to come to light.
Watch Speier discuss sexual harassment on Capitol Hill below.