September 30, 2020

Castro, Speier, and Engel Take On Harassment and Discrimination in the State Department

Washington, DC – Today, Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-14), Co-Chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus; and Congressman Eliot Engel (NY-16), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs; introduced the State Harassment and Assault Prevention and Eradication (SHAPE) Act of 2020. The SHAPE Act requires stronger anti-harassment and discrimination policies and resources and better survivor care and accountability at the State Department on behalf of the brave employees who spoke up about the toxic climate they have endured while making significant sacrifices in service to our nation. 

“Our nation’s diplomats serve in every corner of the world, including hot spots like war zones and regions with civil unrest, to provide for the security of our nation. The remote nature of a diplomat’s work also makes them more vulnerable and too often their complaints of sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination are not adequately addressed, and victims lack support. The global #metoo movement has shone a spotlight on these systemic failures, including at the U.S. State Department, and it’s long past time to take action with real reforms. I’m proud to introduce the SHAPE Act to provide victims with more resources, and hold our government accountable for ensuring a workplace free from harassment,” Chair Castro said. 

“Three years ago, our country was put on notice by the #MeToo movement and I was proud to lead the charge in Congress to better protect employees while also holding Members of Congress personally, financially liable for their misdeeds. That national reckoning has reached the State Department and we are committed to ensuring that this viral online moment, launched by 223 brave women who stepped forward to share their painful experiences knowing the grave risk it posed to their careers, becomes a lasting movement for long overdue change,” Rep. Speier said. “The SHAPE Act will achieve this by creating an Office of Employee Advocacy tasked with providing victims with representation and administering climate surveys; demanding greater accountability; enhancing and improving existing policies, training, reporting and tracking; and providing rights for survivors and access to supportive services. Many of these women and men are serving in warzones or equally dangerous territories. They do so for long stretches of time without access to their loved ones. It’s our duty to ensure that the only enemies they need to worry about are outside their ranks.”

“We must do whatever it takes to protect those who dedicate their lives to protecting our country. That’s why I’m proud to join with Representatives Speier and Castro in introducing the SHAPE Act to prevent and respond to harassment, discrimination, and sexual assault at the State Department,” Chairman Engel said. “This bill would bring necessary changes, requiring the State Department to invest in preventative training and provide resources to victims. It would also ensure the Department is upholding its responsibility to protect our public servants, including many women who for years have faced not only harassment and discrimination, but also cultural and institutional failure within national security Agencies that are unwilling to protect them.”

In November 2017, 223 women in the national security field—current and former diplomats, civil servants, servicemembers, and development workers—signed an open letter with the hashtag #metoonatsec, declaring, “We, too, are survivors of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse or know others who are. This is not just a problem in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, newsrooms or Congress. It is everywhere.” In April 2020, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights highlighted similar findings in a report titled, “Federal #MeToo: Examining Sexual Harassment in Government Workplaces” which identified ways the State Department could do more to keep employees safe and hold perpetrators accountable. 

The SHAPE Act would require the State Department to develop a comprehensive policy and take steps to prevent and respond to harassment, discrimination, sexual assault, and related retaliation by:

  • Establishing an Office of Employee Advocacy to provide optional legal counsel and representation to victims, run an international 24/7 hotline, administer climate surveys, and house Employee Advocates to assist victims throughout the complaint process.  
  • Requiring annual reports to Congress on claims and disciplinary action taken to hold perpetrators accountable and biannual climate survey results to determine effectiveness of new policies;
  • Providing alternate work assignments or paid leave of absence for those who file complaints; 
  • Eliminating forced nondisclosure or non-disparagement agreements; 
  • Mandating bystander intervention training, supervisor training, and executive leadership training;  
  • Implementing standardized sexual assault protocols including:
    • Access to a trained Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Victim Advocate;
    • Provision of a sexual assault forensic evidence kit on request;
    • Comprehensive health services; and 
    • Training of Regional Security Officers in sexual assault investigative techniques. 

The SHAPE Act has been endorsed by the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence; National Partnership for Women and Families; Truman National Security Project; Futures Without Violence; Foreign Policy for America; Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation; and Women Ambassadors Serving America.

Quotes from endorsing organizations and individuals are listed below.

"The SHAPE Act provides federal agencies with a blueprint to ensure safe, transparent, and accountable workplaces for all employees. For too long, public servants have suffered in the shadows of workplace harassment and abuse without clear guidance or support. The SHAPE Act seeks to end that injustice. Its passage will help foster a more inclusive and welcoming workplace that will support long overdue efforts to diversify the State Department," Jenna Ben-Yehuda, President and CEO of the Truman National Security Project and co-author of #MeTooNatSec.

“Congresswoman Speier has once again taken the lead in standing up for survivors and fighting sexual harassment and violence in every workplace,” Esta Soler, President and Founder of Futures Without Violence. “The SHAPE Act will ensure that federal employees at the State Department, including those who may be more vulnerable because of overseas assignments, have the same rights and protections as everyone else because no one deserves to be harassed or abused.”

“On behalf of dozens of survivors of harassment, bullying, assault, and discrimination at the U.S. State Department, we are pleased to work with Reps. Speier, Engel, and Castro to introduce the SHAPE Act. This act will ensure a host of victim protections and the abolishment of mandatory non-disclosure agreements. It will also ensure real consequences for perpetrators. We hope this makes the State Department a safer place to work for everyone,” Amy Dahm, a retired Foreign Service Officer. 

“Being aware of the damage sexual harassment can wreak on the personal and professional lives of America’s public servants, we welcome this effort to help eliminate it,” past and current co-Chairs of Women Ambassadors Serving America, Ambassadors (ret.) Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, Piper Campbell, and Nina Hachigian.

"When women, particularly women of color, are protected and respected, they are empowered to engage on issues that impact their security, and in so doing, help promote a world that is more inclusive, respectful, and peaceful," Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, Founder and Executive Director of Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation. 

In addition to Reps. Speier, Engel and Castro, the SHAPE Act is cosponsored by Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Veronica Escobar, Deb Haaland, Vicente Gonzalez, Debbie Dingell, André Carson, David Price, Michael F.Q. San Nicolas, Ron Kind, Bonnie Watson Coleman, John B. Larson, Chellie Pingree, Jan Schakowsky, and Ilhan Omar.