Bipartisan legislation recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives would strengthen NOAA’s response to sexual assault and sexual harassment and offer more resources for survivors.
The NOAA Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Improvements Act was introduced by Representatives Jared Huffman, D-CA, Suzanne Bonamici, D-OR, Don Young, R-Alaska, and Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, R-Puerto Rico.
The legislation would expand coverage of NOAA’s sexual harassment prevention and response policy and direct NOAA to provide a clear mechanism for anonymous reports of sexual harassment. It would strengthen advocacy resources for survivors and provide them a secure reporting structure.
NOAA employees some 12,000 people, including federal civilian workers and officers of the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, contractors and affiliates. Many of these employees work in remote locations and board research and survey vessels, studying changes in climate, weather, oceans and coastlines.
NOAA has steps in place regarding these issues, but sponsors of the bill said more must be done to prevent such incidences.
The expansion would include those not otherwise covered, including commercial fisheries, protected species and platform removal observers, who are neither employees nor contractors, but are employees of contractors. It would also cover voting members and executive and administrative staff of regional fishery management councils. The bill would also improve the ability of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement to enforce a prohibition on assault, intimidation and interference with fisheries observers.
Details regarding the bill are online at https://bonamici.house.gov/sites/bonamici.house.gov/files/2021%2004%2027%20-%20Summary%20NOAA%20Sexual%20Harassment%20and%20Assault%20Prevention%20Improvements%20Act.pdf The bill’s text is available at https://bonamici.house.gov/sites/bonamici.house.gov/files/2021%20BONAMI_018_xml%20NOAA%20SASH%20text.pdf.
Bonamici said that several years ago she spoke with a fisheries biologist who was forced to put her career on hold because of sexual harassment on a NOAA vessel. The congresswoman said she worked with NOAA to make tangible changes to the agency’s policies and procedures for reporting and investigating sexual harassment and that the scientist eventually did return to her research, but that this was not an isolated incident.