Farenthold Case Prompts Talk about Sexual Harassment on Capitol Hill

By Hannah Hess; Rebecca Gale | Roll Call, September 29, 2015 | Go to article overview

Farenthold Case Prompts Talk about Sexual Harassment on Capitol Hill


Hannah Hess; Rebecca Gale, Roll Call


Staffers (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

"What do you do if you're being sexually harassed in your office?" one user asked Monday morning on the anonymous Capitol Hill social-networking app Cloakroom.

It prompted one person, identifying himself as a 26-year-old male working for a 40-year-old female chief of staff, to share his own situation.

"She has slapped my ass, talked about her vibrator, and has asked me sexual questions. I have ignored them but I am thinking about going to the member," he submitted to the online community, limited to users whose GPS location is within the Capitol complex, or those who register with a staff email address.

The thread drew 30 responses, ranging from vulgar to stoic. Some advised contacting the appropriate ethics committee to document the details or reaching out to the House Office of Employee Assistance for professional and emotional counseling. One warned the user to accept that reporting the harassment means, "You will need to accept that your career on the Hill will be over."

As Cloakroom users talked shop about office sexual harassment, the House Ethics Committee announced it would continue its review of sexual harassment allegations against Rep. Blake Farenthold, R- Texas, as civil litigation proceeds in a case brought by his former communications director. The Office of Congressional Ethics on Monday said it did not find substantial reason to believe the congressman sexually harassed his staffer, but the committee said it had not completed its review of the matter. A link to CQ Roll Call's story in the app drew comparisons to the other case in which the committee addressed the topic.

In late 2014, the committee chided Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, D- Fla., for unprofessional behavior with female employees of the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, including comments about sex and underwear. But the committee ultimately cleared Hastings of allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances toward a Republican aide on the commission.

Both the Farenthold and Hastings cases concern allegations against members of Congress; far less attention is given to conflicts between staff members in the same congressional office. …

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