California congresswoman alleges sexual harassment on Capitol Hill

"It's time to throw back the curtain on the repulsive behavior," Speier said.

ByVeronica Stracqualursi, Mary Bruce and John Parkinson
October 27, 2017, 11:30 AM

— -- A California congresswoman said she is sharing her personal experience with sexual harassment in the hopes of inspiring current and former congressional staffers to do the same.

In a video posted online Friday morning, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said that a chief of staff forcibly "kissed me and stuck his tongue in my mouth" when she was working as a congressional staffer. In the video, she did not name the person behind the alleged abuse.

Speier confirmed to ABC News that the man the allegation was directed at was Joe Holsinger, the chief of staff for former Rep. Leo Ryan, D-Calif. Holsinger was around 50 at the time of the incident, Speier said, and she was in her mid-20s. Holsinger died in 2004.

Speier continued in the video, “Many of us in Congress know what it’s like because Congress has been a breeding ground for a hostile work environment for far too long.”

"I know what it’s like to keep these things hidden deep down inside,” Speier said in the video, adding, "I know what it's like to remember that rush of humiliation and anger."

Speier is pushing a new movement -- "#MeTooCongress" -- by encouraging Capitol Hill staffers to share their stories, if they feel comfortable, in order to "throw back the curtain on the repulsive behavior that until now has thrived in the dark without consequences."

Thousands of people have shared their stories of alleged sexual misconduct using the hashtag #MeToo on social media in the wake of allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein. More than 60 women have come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against the movie mogul. Weinstein has denied all allegations.

Speier tried to make sexual harassment training a requirement for House members, staffers and officers by introducing a resolution in 2014. She also pushed an amendment to the House appropriations bill that same year to allot $500,000 to the Congressional Office of Compliance for sexual harassment training. That amendment, however, was taken out of the Senate’s version of the bill.

Several female senators shared their stories of the sexual harassment they say they have experienced on NBC News' "Meet the Press" as well, although none of the incidents occurred on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., recalled that when she was a young state legislator in her twenties, she asked the speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives for advice on getting her first bill out of committee.

"He looked at me and he paused and he said, 'Well, did you bring your knee pads?'" McCaskill said.

PHOTO: Senate Homeland Ranking Member Sen. Claire McCaskill speaks during a committee hearing on April 5, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Senate Homeland Ranking Member Sen. Claire McCaskill speaks during a committee hearing on April 5, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Zach Gibson/Getty Images

When asked during an event last Wednesday in her home state of California if sexual harassment is prevalent on Capitol Hill, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, “I don't have that experience in Washington, D.C. I just don’t. I have not seen that.”

Sexual harassment claims on Capitol Hill are handled by the Congressional Office of Compliance, under the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995. A staffer has 180 days after the alleged incident to file for counseling. After 30 days of counseling, the employee can request private mediation with their office to resolve the matter.

If the employee and the office can’t reach a resolution, there are two options to pursue: an employee can either file an administrative complaint and have their case heard by a hearing officer in a private setting, or file a lawsuit in federal district court.

Of the 49 new requests filed in the fiscal year 2016 for counseling, aside from discipline, sexual harassment was the issue raised most often by victims, according to a 2016 report from the Congressional Office of Compliance.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., today introduced the Congressional Sexual Training Act, which would require all congressional offices to train their employees on sexual harassment prevention.

Rep. Lawrence said in a statement that she believes “it is unconscionable that every congressional office is not required to participate in this simple training solution that is already available.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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