Delaware delegation: Spotlight finally shines on sexual harassment

DOVER — The three members of Delaware’s congressional delegation are all strongly condemning alleged sexual harassment by two of their colleagues.

Women have accused Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., of sexual harassment over the past three weeks, following similar allegations made against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis C.K. and other high-profile men.

The members of the First State’s delegation — Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, all Democrats — have spoken out against sexual misconduct, although some have gone into greater detail than others.

While noting that he could not comment on specifics because of his status at vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, Sen. Coons said in a statement the United States is “facing an important moment where we’re finally coming face to face with the reality that sexual harassment, misconduct and assault are pervasive. The conversations we’re now having as a country are long, long overdue, and they are absolutely necessary.”

Rep. Blunt Rochester, the first woman Delaware has sent to Congress, took a similar stance.

“I think there are few women in the workplace that have not faced some level of harassment, whether it is the level that we have seen publicized recently or the daily unwelcome experiences women face in the workplace,” she said in a statement.

“Harassment doesn’t always make headlines. It can happen subtly when you’re at the grocery store or at the lunch counter and someone says something in a demeaning or unwanted way. While I have not experienced the kind of sexual harassment that is playing out in the media, I empathize with these women.

“This is an issue that cuts across all demographics, and I feel very fortunate to be in a position to stand up for those who have been victims of sexual harassment. Changing culture requires all of us to speak out against the structures and systems that have for too long isolated and belittled victims, and instead speak up on their behalf to empower them.”

Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted to require every member and employee of the House to undergo anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training within the next 30 days.

“That’s a step in the right direction, but it’s the bare minimum,” Rep. Blunt Rochester said. “Let’s be clear — this is a cultural problem that exists throughout society, not just within the halls of the Capitol, and that’s why these conversations are critically important and must continue so we can enact meaningful change.

“It’s my hope that the conversations happening today in Congress and throughout our society will result in creating workplace environments where employees feel safe and supported. We also need to create a reporting system that supports victims, provides them with the resources they need to manage the trauma, and promotes transparency.”

The congressional Office of Compliance reported two weeks ago it has paid out about $17.2 million over 264 claims of harassment and other issues in the past 20 years.

Sen. Franken has said he would welcome an ethics investigation, and the House Committee on Ethics is looking into Rep. Conyers’ behavior.

After the allegations against Sen. Franken were first made public, Sen. Carper in a statement called them “deeply troubling and disappointing” while also noting “Assertions of deplorable behavior by President Trump have been made by many women over many years, and I deeply regret those allegations will never be scrutinized the way they should be.”

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