New Hampshire Rep. On 'Me Too' Bill Addressing Sexual Harassment NPR's Elise Hu speaks with Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire about the "Me Too" bill she is co-sponsoring. It is one of many bills responding to sexual harassment in Congress.
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New Hampshire Rep. On 'Me Too' Bill Addressing Sexual Harassment

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New Hampshire Rep. On 'Me Too' Bill Addressing Sexual Harassment

New Hampshire Rep. On 'Me Too' Bill Addressing Sexual Harassment

New Hampshire Rep. On 'Me Too' Bill Addressing Sexual Harassment

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NPR's Elise Hu speaks with Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire about the "Me Too" bill she is co-sponsoring. It is one of many bills responding to sexual harassment in Congress.

ELISE HU, HOST:

Democratic Congresswoman Annie Kuster of New Hampshire is among those working to change the process on the Hill to report harassment. She's a co-sponsor of the Me Too bill. She also has her own #MeToo story. She first told that story in October of last year. The tape of then-candidate Donald Trump speaking with former "Access Hollywood" host Billy Bush had just come out.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful - I start kissing them. It's like a magnet.

BILLY BUSH: (Laughter).

TRUMP: Just kiss - I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

BUSH: Whatever you want.

TRUMP: Grab them by the [expletive].

BUSH: (Laughter).

TRUMP: You can do anything.

ANNIE KUSTER: Well, I was in the midst of my own re-election campaign. I was in an editorial board meeting. And the issue of the "Access Hollywood" tape came up and the comments that were made by Donald Trump. Of course, I was offended, but I said to the editorial board, that's what happened to me. And by that, I mean that quote, and if you're famous they just let you do it.

HU: It happened 40 years earlier while she was a staffer on Capitol Hill.

KUSTER: I was 23 years old. And a famous heart surgeon - his name was Dr. Christian Barnard - came to the Congress. It was a great honor to be included in a meeting with him. And during the course of that meeting he - his hand reached under my skirt to a place that it shouldn't have been. And I just froze. I didn't know what to do. I didn't do anything. I didn't even have the presence of mind to get up to go to the ladies' room. I sat there and never told a soul.

And at that point in time, in the 1970s, we didn't even have the legal concept of sexual harassment as a type of gender discrimination in the workplace. But now or in the last year, I have come forward and told my story and met many, many, many survivors of sexual assault, sexual harassment. And I think what you're seeing coming out of the #MeToo campaign all across this country is just what a widespread problem this is. I think many people have been waiting a long time, and that it's our time to stand up and say, no more.

HU: What do you think, though, is the difference between the cultural and social response to the "Access Hollywood" tape last summer versus the cultural and social response we're seeing now to sexual harassment generally?

KUSTER: Well, I think that never went away, by the way, and I think part of what you're seeing is sort of the latent energy from that. But here's what I think was a very big change. The #MeToo - hashtag #MeToo campaign online had an exponential impact. And one of the things was that it broadened the discussion from sexual assault as in criminal sexual assault to include sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace.

And now what we're seeing - women are coming forward with their stories that they've never told. I never told my parents. I never told my friends. I didn't even tell my husband or my sons until I got the courage from these young survivors. And I realized that our generation's silence makes us complicit in this environment of rampant sexual assault and sexual harassment. And I think many of the women who are coming forward my age and stage realize we never thought that would still be going on.

I was one of the first women in my college. I was one of the first women working on Capitol Hill. I thought that we were there to create change. And it never occurred to me that 40 years later my nieces, my son's girlfriends would have to be worrying about this in the workplace. And it's time to say, no more. We need to shatter the silence, and we need to stop this crude and degrading behavior.

HU: You're certainly hearing stories every day. Is there one that sticks out to you?

KUSTER: Oh, there are so many now. So many people have come forward to me. I was standing in my kitchen, talking to a friend who's been a close friend for 40 years - we've raised our kids together - and she told me a story about being raped in the back of a car. And as she's standing in my kitchen she said, I never should have gone with him in that car. And I just put my arm around her. I said, no, no, he never should have done what he did to you. And then I keep hearing stories in the workplace. You know, some of them have been public now.

Certainly the one the other day at the hearing where a young woman was delivering papers to a current member of Congress and he answered the door with a - naked with a towel around his waist to take the papers from her. And she was so horrified she quit the job the next day. I mean, this is just going on in every walk of life. And the fact is it's wrong. And this is a watershed moment for all of us to stand together, to give each other strength, to give each other courage, and to call upon our husbands, our sons, our brothers (laughter), our fathers to stand with us.

HU: Obviously this is a heavy topic, and you're hearing a flood of stories. So how are you doing?

KUSTER: You're so kind. I've been waiting 40 years to have this conversation. I've been carrying this just alone as many survivors do. And ironically, I feel great. I feel like our country needs to have this conversation, and I'm really proud to be a part of it.

HU: Congresswoman Annie Kuster. She's a Democrat from New Hampshire and one of the co-sponsors of the bipartisan ME TOO Act. Congresswoman, thank you.

KUSTER: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF OURS SAMPLUS SONG, "KARMONI")

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