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It’s the way you dress, Democratic congresswoman tells colleagues

At a closed-door meeting of House Democrats to discuss reforming how Congress handles sexual harassment allegations, one senior congresswoman stunned lawmakers when she suggested female lawmakers were inviting unwanted advances because of the way they dressed.

Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur stood up and told her colleagues Wednesday that “too many members dress inappropriately” and it’s “an invitation” to be harassed, according to three Democratic sources familiar with the discussion.

Kaptur said female staffers and reporters were also guilty of wearing outfits that she believed were too revealing.

Those in the room were “totally in shock” and their “mouths were agape” at the statement from Kaptur, according to these sources.

Politico first reported Kaptur’s comments Wednesday.

Kaptur told CNN in a written statement that she was not suggesting that victims were responsible.

“When I was first elected to Congress my office and I became a refuge for female staffers who had been mistreated by their bosses. Some of them in tears many days. It is something I carry with me to this day and something I brought up during our Caucus meeting. Under no circumstances is it the victim’s fault if they are harassed in any way. I shared the stories from my time here in the context of the ‘Me Too’ legislation and how we can elevate the decorum and the dress code to protect women from what is a pervasive problem here and in society at large.”

Kaptur, 71, had signaled that she knew her statement would cause some blowback, prefacing it by saying, “I might get booed down for saying this.” She has served in the House since 1983 and is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee.

One Democratic staffer who attended the meeting said the comment came toward the end of the gathering and that people glanced around and said to each other, “Did she really just say that?”

“Everyone was totally at a loss for words,” one Democrat told CNN, so there wasn’t any discussion and the meeting wrapped up soon after the Ohio Democrat spoke.

Wednesday morning’s meeting was convened by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California to discuss what she and an ad hoc group of lawmakers examining the issue of sexual harassment have learned in their discussions with other members and outside experts.

In recent weeks lawmakers from both parties have been accused of sexual harassment. Arizona GOP Rep. Trent Franks resigned last week after reports surfaced that he had approached female aides about serving as surrogate mothers for his wife and him and had made inappropriate comments. A former campaign aide for Nevada Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen went public accusing him of multiple incidents of sexual harassment while he was a candidate. He has denied the allegations, but Pelosi and the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, have called on him to resign.

Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee, accused of harassing his former communications director. Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken resigned his seat after a series of women reported he had groped them.