'We will not tolerate this anymore:' Women ask lawmakers for new sexual harassment protections

WASHINGTON — The Democratic Women’s Caucus held a special and emotional hearing Thursday, Feb. 6, listening to stories of victims of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.

The proceedings featured women who helped galvanize the #MeToo movement over the last two years, pointing out unacceptable behavior by high-profile men in entertainment, business and the media.

The panelists called on Congress to close what they called loopholes in sexual abuse laws that leave thousands of women vulnerable and let perpetrators off the hook.

Kimberly Lawson said she was among those vulnerable women, the single mother telling lawmakers she felt powerless to stop harassment while working at a Kansas City McDonald’s to support her family.

“I felt like I had no choice but to tolerate it,” she said. “I’m having to worry about either losing hours at work or being unsafe at my own job. No woman should have to make a choice like that.”

Sitting next to her was Drew Dixon, one of three women who have accused music mogul Russell Simmons of rape, saying the trauma caused her to quit and the system failed her.

“I am one of only countless workers who and aspiring employees whose professional potential has been crushed by the sexual predation of men in positions of power,” she said.

The U.S. House of Representatives is considering three bills aimed at expanding federal protections for workers. One would give contracted workers and employees of small businesses new power to sue their bosses if harassed. Another would make it illegal for employers to make workers sign agreements forcing them to settle harassment claims in private rather than in court.

“We have our work cut out for us,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who chairs the caucus, said. “We’re seeing this issue get lost in everything else that’s going on.”

Lawmakers said they are hopeful they can pass new worker protections in the Democrat-led House, but they expect a difficult road in the Republican-controlled Senate.

“We will not tolerate this anymore,” Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said.