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Why women on Capitol Hill don’t report sexual harassment, explained in 90 seconds

MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt lays out the web of bureaucracy, mandatory waiting periods, and taxpayer money involved in making a sexual harassment claim in Congress.

Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Congress is under scrutiny for allegations of sexual harassment — and victims coming forward on Capitol Hill must navigate a web of bureaucracy and mandatory waiting periods, with taxpayer money funding the defense of alleged harassers.

On Sunday, MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt laid out the process for workers to file a sexual harassment claim in Congress in a segment on Kasie DC. In just over a minute and 40 seconds, she makes clear the current setup is deeply flawed: “It’s very convoluted,” she says.

Harassment is a prevalent problem in Congress. A 2016 survey by CQ Roll Call found that four in 10 women congressional staffers believed sexual harassment to be a problem on Capitol Hill, while one in six said they personally had been victimized. The vast majority of cases are likely going unreported.

That’s because, as Hunt explains, the process for coming forward with allegations against staff or members of Congress is anything but simple:

Sexual harassment victims in Congress have 180 days to bring a claim to the US Congress Office of Compliance, the office responsible for handling workplace complaints, Hunt explains.

Victims are then subject to up to 30 days of mandatory counseling and then have 15 days to decide whether to bring claims to mediation. If they don’t want mediation, they’re out of options.

If victims do opt for mediation, a lawyer representing the congressional office gets involved, whose job it is to protect the office and institution. That lawyer is funded with taxpayer money.

If no settlement is reached, then there’s a 30-day cooling-off period before a victim can file a lawsuit or request a hearing.

And if a settlement is reached, it is usually accompanied by a nondisclosure agreement — and paid for, again, with taxpayer money.

Several current and former female members of Congress have shared their own experiences of harassment in recent weeks. Allegations that Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) groped a Los Angeles radio host without her consent in 2006 and the growing chorus of women making allegations of inappropriate conduct against Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore have increased pressure even more.

Both houses of Congress this month moved to make sexual harassment training mandatory for lawmakers, staff, and employees. Still, many say lawmakers have a long way to go in addressing sexual harassment, including the process through which victims are able to make claims.

"We have a system in place that allows for the harasser to go unchecked,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who has been a vocal advocate for sexual harassment victims, said in a Sunday interview on Face the Nation.

Speier, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and other lawmakers last week introduced the ME TOO Act, legislation to prevent and respond to sexual harassment in Congress.

“We have to make sure that a complaint is taken seriously. And the person who is the victim is not somehow tortured or intimidated into not filing the complaint,” Speier said on Sunday. “That's what it is right now in Congress.”