For Republican Rep. Mary Bono, the suggestive comments wouldn’t stop from one male colleague. He even approached her on the House floor to tell her he’d been thinking about her in the shower, she says.

Bono, who served 15 years before being defeated in 2012, is not alone.

As reports flow out almost daily of harassment or worse by men in entertainment, business and the media, one current and three former female lawmakers say they, too, have been harassed or subjected to hostile sexual comments – by fellow members of Congress.

The revelations Friday prompted renewed calls for Congress to tighten its training and reporting procedures. House Speaker Paul Ryan sent a memo to fellow lawmakers encouraging them to complete sexual-harassment training and mandate it for their staffs, telling them, “Harassment has no place in this institution.”

The incidents described by the four lawmakers occurred years or even decades ago, usually when the women were young newcomers to Congress. They range from isolated comments at one hearing, to repeated unwanted come-ons, to lewd remarks and even groping on the House floor. Coming amid an intensifying national focus on sexual harassment and gender hostility in the workplace, the revelations underscore that no woman is immune, even at the highest reaches of government.

“This is about power,” said former California Sen. Barbara Boxer, after describing an incident at a hearing in the 1980s where a male colleague made a sexually suggestive comment about her from the dais, which was met with general laughter and an approving second from the committee chairman. “It’s hostile and embarrasses, and therefore could take away a person’s power.”


Boxer and the other female lawmakers spoke on the record to tell their stories following revelations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s alleged serial attacks on women, as well as disclosures from current and former Capitol Hill staffers about harassment by lawmakers and aides.

While rare, their accounts raise troubling questions about the boys’ club environment on Capitol Hill where male lawmakers can feel empowered to target their peers.

The lawmakers declined to identify the perpetrators by name, but at least two of the men continue to serve in the House. None of the female lawmakers interviewed reported the incidents – some said it was not clear where to lodge such a complaint.

“When I was a very new member of Congress in my early 30s, there was a more senior member who outright propositioned me, who was married, and despite trying to laugh it off and brush it aside, it would repeat. And I would avoid that member,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif. She said she warned other new female members about the lawmaker in question, but she declined to identify him, while saying he remains in Congress.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.