Fighting sexual harassment at federal agencies

Photo: The Source Weekly

Last week Democratic Reps Raúl M. Grijalva, the Chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources; Elijah E. Cummings, the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform; and Jackie Speier, the Chairwoman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, expressed their concern over sexual harassment at the US Forest Service in response to a new report from the Department of Agriculture Inspector General identifying numerous failures by management to protect women. They issued a statement explaining that:

Given the number of complaints of harassment and retaliation we continue to receive from current and former Forest Service employees, we are deeply concerned about the Forest Service’s commitment to addressing these failures.  This is an urgent matter and a top priority for us this Congress. We will ask the Inspector General and the Forest Service to brief us on these new findings.  We will also ask the Inspector General to review the entire agency’s processes for addressing sexual harassment and misconduct.”

The USDA report found that the Forest Service failed to:

  • Identify applicants with a history of sexual harassment or misconduct;
  • Act on allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct in a timely manner; and
  • Document decisions to impose penalties on employees who engaged in sexual harassment or misconduct that were less severe than those called for in agency guidance.

The Forest Service isn’t the only agency with a problem, High Country News reported in 2017 that an internal survey in the National Park Service found that 40% of the organization’s employees experienced some level of harassment over a 12 month period.  Earth.com reported that the survey broke down the numbers more, 19% of those surveyed said they experienced gender-based harassment and 10% reported sexual harassment. Almost 1% reported actual sexual assault.  Roughly half of the National Park Service employees responded to the survey. Outside Online explained that these numbers are a small part of a much bigger problem.  It seems that the National Park Service has a long history of ignoring or downplaying complaints by female employees.

Why This Matters: The Forest Service, as well as the National Park Service, has been plagued with allegations of sexual harassment in recent years especially in light of the #MeToo movement. Female rangers and staff have faced repeated instances of gender discrimination, bullying, sexual harassment and assault by crew members and supervisors. Worse yet, when they’ve reported this abuse they’ve often been retaliated against. While it’s difficult to change the culture of these agencies overnight, the best way to ensure that change won’t happen is to enable the lack of repercussion for perpetrators to continue–this can’t continue. Women must be believed and protected and it’s good news that Congressional Democrats are willing to take action to address harassment and hopefully prevent it from happening again.

Go Deeper: Sadly, yet not surprisingly, sexual harassment and abuse don’t stop with the Forest Service. Last week, Rep. Raul Grijalva sent a letter to President Trump Wednesday asking him to withdraw the nomination of Barry Myers to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) after reports that he was involved in a discrimination and sexual harassment settlement at his former company.

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