(CN) — America’s largest employer, the U.S. government, fielded sexual-harassment claims at a rate of 1.5 a day as the #MeToo movement rattled most sectors of the country.
Among varying levels of its nearly 2,000 agencies, women accounted for more than 4 out of every 5 accusers.
Those are the startling findings that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reported Wednesday after scrutinizing sexual harassment allegations filed against the U.S. government between the 2015 and 2018 fiscal years.
Of the 29,657 total harassment claims during that period, 2,257 of those claims were sexual in nature. Because the reality of underreporting means that the true numbers are likely more dramatic, the 264-page report calls for the government to appoint a federal ombudsperson tasked with investigating sexual harassment claims.
“Congress should allocate additional funds to enable EEOC to help agencies proactively identify and prevent sexual harassment,” commission chair Catherine Lhamon wrote in a 2-page letter to President Trump, abbreviating the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
NASA and the State Department, which received 180 and 52 sexual harassment complaints in 2016, respectively, are explored as case studies in Wednesday’s report.
Neither ranks as the worst among the federal agencies — a record held by the Social Security Administration, which faced 518 complaints in 2016 — but both have a history of sex discrimination. NASA excluded women for a long time based on gender stereotypes, and the State Department once barred married women from serving overseas.
“An American non-[Department of State] member of my mission overseas assaulted me after attending the Marine Ball many years ago,” one foreign service officer told the commission. “It took me about a year to recognize that incident for what it was, date rape, and at that point, the guy had left the country. Within hours of the assault, I convinced myself I was entirely to blame for the incident. I was terrified to speak about my experience to anyone in my vicinity given the paramount importance myself and my colleagues place on our corridor reputations.”
NASA and the State Department did not immediately respond to emails requesting comment.
Invoking the resignation of Senator Al Franken and anonymous allegations, the commission highlighted one Politico report that called congressional protections a “joke.”
“In Congress, for example, a complainant was forced to work with an alleged harasser for a thirty-day ‘cooling off period,’” the commission noted, citing Politico’s reporting on one anonymous case. “At the Commission’s briefing, Representative Jackie Speier testified that ‘Congress has been a breeding ground for a hostile work environment for far too long. It’s time to throw back the curtain on the repulsive behavior that has thrived in the dark without consequences.’”
Representatives for Speier, the first congresswoman to speak at a briefing the commission held last May, did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
From its title on down, the “Federal #MeToo” report is a testament to the movement begun by social activist Tarana Burke in 2006 and later popularized by American actress Alyssa Milano.
The report notes that, as the wave swept past Hollywood, “women serving in Congress have played a central role in acknowledging and condemning their colleagues’ inappropriate conduct.”
“When allegations that Senator Al Franken had forcibly kissed and groped two of his female coworkers became public in late 2017, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand publicly called for his resignation,” it continues.
The allegations against Franken sparked their own controversy, with the New Yorker’s investigative reporter Jane Mayer — herself an icon of the movement — writing a story suggesting the senator had been “railroaded.”
In Congress, the commission made clear, the problem does not begin and end with Franken.
“However, the problem runs deep: In March 2019, based on a Congressional inquiry, the Inspector General of the Architect of the Capitol published a report detailing 57 incidents of sexual harassment over the past ten years, including allegations that Members of Congress had harassed custodial staff, who did not report these incidents due to fear of losing their jobs,” the report states.
Testimony quoted by the commission shows how sexual harassment has trailed top prosecutors.
“My supervisor stalked me for over a year and it was a terrifying and life-altering experience,” a senior litigator in the Justice Department told the commission. “He admitted to it, but my office responded largely with indifference. They didn’t fire, demote, or suspend him, involve outside law enforcement, or even mention the episode in his permanent file. Instead, they merely transferred him to a different office, and I feared for the women there.”
At the commission’s briefing, the Justice Department’s litigator Stacey Young described this practice as “pass the trash, whereby serious offenders are moved from one office to another.”
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.