Congress Took Three Decades To Come This Far, Sexual Harassment Victim Says

By Stephanie Akin
CQ-Roll Call

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) On Capitol Hil, manyl victims of sexual harassment have been reluctant to come forward. A handful of women have shared stories with The Washington Post, New York magazine and other publications of unwanted sexual comments, groping or assault by members of Congress and senior staffers while they were working or interning on the Hill. Few of them allowed their full names to be printed.


Shortly after Dorena Bertussi’s name was published in one of the first major sexual harassment scandals in the House of Representatives, she came home to the sound of a ticking clock on her home answering machine.

The police told her she might want to find someplace else to stay for a while.

It was one of many episodes that help Bertussi understand, perhaps more than most, why 29 years later a national firestorm over sexual harassment in American institutions has been slower to ignite in Congress.

Bertussi has since shared the details of her story countless times when women who worked in Congress or other government jobs approached her about following in her footsteps. It is no surprise to her, she said in a recent interview, that most of those women never came forward, and that even today, amid the cascade of public complaints against high-profile figures in other industries, members of Congress have been largely spared.

Never mind that Bertussi told those women that she would have done it all over again. Never mind that, in the intervening years, Anita Hill forced a national discussion about workplace sexual harassment and Congress made a few attempts to make it easier for staff members to report their own claims.

Bertussi’s case inspired Capitol Hill’s Women’s Political Caucus to write a model sexual harassment policy, which it circulated to all members. It is also still cited in the ethics manual distributed to House members.

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