Washington (AFP) - Two US lawmakers stood accused of sexual harassment Tuesday, including one who allegedly exposed himself to a young staffer, amid mounting concern over abuse on Capitol Hill.
With a broadening national spotlight on sexual misconduct in Hollywood, the media and politics, Congress has begun to address the accusations of abuse and demands by some 1,500 former staffers that comprehensive reforms be instituted.
The claims also come as conservative ex-judge Roy Moore, a candidate for US Senate, faces startling accusations by five women claiming he sexually assaulted or pursued them when they were teenagers in Alabama.
House Democrat Jackie Speier, an advocate for an improved anti-harassment system in Congress, said she was aware of two sitting congressmen, a Republican and a Democrat she did not name, who "have engaged in sexual harassment."
"I have had numerous meetings and phone calls with staff members, both present and former, women and men, who have been subjected to this inexcusable and often times illegal behavior," she told the House Administration Committee.
She painted a picture of sexual predation on Capitol Hill, which included "victims having their private parts grabbed on the House floor."
Her colleague, House Republican Barbara Comstock, told the panel of a young staffer who delivered documents to her lawmaker boss's residence and was greeted by the congressman, who was wearing only a towel.
"At that point, he decided to expose himself. She left, and then she quit her job," Comstock said.
"But that kind of situation -- what are we doing here for women right now who are dealing with somebody like that?"
- 'Deep concern' -
As for Moore, he has denied the allegations against him, but his support among mainstream Republicans has plummeted one month before the December 12 special election.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have called on him to exit the race, while the editorial board of the Alabama Media Group branded him "grossly unfit for office."
Speaking to reporters outside the Senate, McConnell acknowledged the Moore scandal has rattled the party as it seeks to maintain its 52-48 majority in the chamber.
"There's no question that there's deep concern here," McConnell said, adding that he has spoken with President Donald Trump about how to deal with Moore.
"He's obviously not fit to be in the United States Senate, and we've looked at all the options to try to prevent that from happening."
The House hearing addressed the need to update the chamber's policies on misconduct claims, and bipartisan calls to implement mandatory sexual harassment training for both lawmakers and staff.
On cue, Speaker Ryan announced that "going forward, the House will adopt a policy of mandatory anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all members and staff."
The goal is not only to raise awareness, he said, "but also make abundantly clear that harassment in any form has no place in this institution."
Speier herself acknowledged last month that she was the victim of abuse when she worked as a congressional staffer decades ago.
"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," she said in an October video encouraging other staffers to tell their stories.