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Democrats introduce bill to combat sexual harassment at State Department

House Democrats on Wednesday introduced a bill aimed at combating sexual harassment and discrimination at the State Department.

The legislation, called the State Harassment and Assault Prevention and Eradication (SHAPE) Act, seeks to ban forced nondisclosure or non-disparagement agreements and would increase training for sexual assault prevention, intervention and advocacy.

It also would establish an Office of Employee Advocacy to provide counseling, legal advice, representation a 24/7 international hotline and employee advocates to assist in the complaint process.

The legislation also would require annual reports to Congress on claims and disciplinary action taken to hold perpetrators accountable and surveys to evaluate the impact of the new policies.

The measure was introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), co-chair of the Democratic women’s caucus.

“This bill would bring necessary changes, requiring the State Department to invest in preventative training and provide resources to victims," Engel said. "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.”

“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,” Speier said in a separate statement. “It’s our duty to ensure that the only enemies they need to worry about are outside their ranks.”

The lawmakers said the legislation was inspired by an open letter published in November 2017 to the national security community calling out sexual harassment, assault, abuse and discrimination. The letter was signed by 223 women in the field.

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