Overnight custodial workers on Capitol Hill have alleged being targets of sexual harassment, overhearing harassing conversations and seeing materials such as pornography in the offices of members of Congress, an inspector general’s investigation has found.
The watchdog for the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) office, which is responsible for operations on the Capitol complex, launched an investigation at Congress’ request into how AOC leaders responded to sexual harassment complaints from its employees over the past decade.
A final report, submitted to Congress on March 15 and first reported by Roll Call on Friday, concluded that the AOC, which allegedly was not fully cooperative, maintains an outdated culture that sometimes creates an environment in which harassment is seen as permissible and employees do not feel comfortable coming forward.
The report says there were 57 reported incidents of sexual harassment between 2008 and 2018. The OIG report notes that it is a relatively low number but that there is a perception within the workforce that sexual harassment is a larger problem.
“We feel misperception is attributed to the lingering cultural bias discussed in this report and also to the tendency of employees in dysfunctional work environments to casually use terminologies that apply to legally protected classifications for workplace conditions,” the investigators wrote.
Some custodial staff, particularly those who work overnight, said they have observed or been subject to harassing behavior, but said they would not report it for fear of losing their jobs, according to the report. They also reported feeling “unprotected and disadvantaged.” One employee told investigators that no one at AOC could tell them what happens if the harasser is a member of Congress.
“This was not a hypothetical question,” the employee said. “It happens.”
Another said, “Past issues of temper, volatility and threatened violence by members of Congress were weakly addressed by AOC executives and other members of Congress. I worked through my trauma through my own sources, subsequently.”
Many lawmakers and congressional staff work late into the night, with some lawmakers even sleeping in their offices rather than paying rent in Washington.
In response to the #MeToo era and several high-profile incidents of lawmakers using taxpayer dollars to settle sexual harassment cases, Congress reached a deal to change its sexual assault policies at the end of 2018, though the focus of that was primarily on lawmakers or high-ranking aides preying on subordinates or interns.
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