WASHINGTON — A California congresswoman used a video Friday to describe being grabbed and kissed as a young congressional aide and to invite staffers to share their own stories as the sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein reverberated on Capitol Hill.
“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,” Rep. Jackie Speier says in a brief video she posted on Twitter and YouTube.
Looking directly at the camera, the 67-year-old Democrat says the office’s chief of staff “held my face, kissed me and stuck his tongue in my mouth.” She says she knows what it means to keep such stories bottled up.
“I know what it’s like to lie in bed at night, wondering if I was the one who had done something wrong,” she says in a matter-of-fact tone. “I know what it’s like years later to remember that rush of humiliation and anger.”
In the video, Speier urges current and former congressional aides to tell their stories on a new hashtag, #MeTooCongress. Similar “#MeToo” hashtags have attracted numerous stories of harassment from celebrities and others since earlier this month, when reports detailed allegations of sexual harassment and rape against Weinstein.
“There is nothing to fear in telling the truth,” says Speier, who represents an area south of San Francisco. “And it’s time to throw back the curtain on the repulsive behavior that until now has thrived in the dark without consequences.”
Speier, first elected to the House in 2008, has pushed legislation requiring that lawmakers and staff take training on sexual harassment issues. She plans to introduce a similar measure soon, a spokeswoman said.
The Congressional Office of Compliance has jurisdiction over workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Speier and others have complained that its procedures are too weak.
The lawmaker has also focused on sexual assault in the military and on college campuses. And she attracted attention during a 2011 House debate on abortion when she described undergoing the procedure herself because of a medical problem.
Speier was in her twenties and an aide to Rep. Leo Ryan, D-Calif., when the incident occurred, a Speier spokeswoman said.
In 1978, Speier was with Ryan on a trip to Jonestown, Guyana, when the congressman and four others were shot and killed by followers of the Rev. Jim Jones, a San Francisco cult member who Ryan was investigating.
Speier was wounded in the airport attack.
The Oscar-winning Weinstein was fired from his studio, The Weinstein Company, after The New York Times reported on the harassment allegations against him. He apologized without addressing any specific conduct, but has denied other allegations by several women that he raped them.