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D.C. Delegate Wants a National Commission on Sexual Harassment

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) holds a news conference in the Cannon House Office Building on May 9, 2016.(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

WASHINGTON — D.C.’s delegate to Congress wants to create a national commission tasked with studying sexual harassment and finding ways to combat it in workplaces across the country.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) will be introducing legislation, her office said, to create the commission that would report back to Congress on “recommended changes in law or regulations and best practices for preventing, training, investigating, responding to and punishing sexual harassment in the private and public sectors.”

Norton’s bill comes amid bipartisan legislation to reform the way that sexual harassment accusers are treated on Capitol Hill, including doing away with mandatory mediation and nondisclosure agreements and stopping the practice of paying settlements with taxpayer funds.

In a statement Tuesday, Norton such a commission would be modeled on national commissions established by Congress to go after problems such as weapons of mass destruction and gambling.

“Congress has begun to confront sexual harassment here in Congress, but only Congress, which represents every sector, can truly take on the national problem of sexual harassment, which we now know has infected every major sector of the American workplace,” Norton said. “If 2017 was the year of the ‘silence breakers,’ we must make 2018 the year of heeding their call for action.”

“The facts are tumbling out almost entirely because of women themselves and the free press that reports their stories,” she added. “Many of the courageous women who have come forward have been in high-profile workplaces. Congress can take the lead in getting beyond women who work with the Harvey Weinsteins, members of Congress, and other powerful figures to uncover sexual harassment against women who face greater challenges to exposing it in their industries, such as women in hospitality and retail sectors, where the personnel are disproportionately female and the managers are male.”

Norton said that “discrimination and the hierarchy of power in the workplace means that, regardless of the sector, men still hold positions that enable them to take advantage of female subordinates if they choose.”

“A national commission would help reach and reduce sexual harassment where the average woman works,” the delegate argued. “A national commission would not have to wait for women to take the risk of coming forward. It would be charged with identifying and taking affirmative steps to investigate sectors that receive too little attention.”

The federal lawmakers who have been embroiled in sexual harassment allegations since the #MeToo movement caught fire have been Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.), and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas). Kihuen and Farenthold have announced they won’t run for re-election, while Conyers and Franks have resigned. Franken says he’ll resign next month.