Earlier this year, Missouri House Speaker John Diehl (a Republican) resigned after it was revealed that he had sexted with a 19-year-old legislative intern. Months later, State Senator Paul LeVota (a Democrat) resigned after two interns accused him of sexual harassment (he denied the charges).
There’s clearly a problem in Missouri politics. So how do you fix it?
According to two Republicans: Tell the interns to wear more appropriate clothing.
Among the first suggested additions to [Rep. Kevin] Engler’s list came from Rep. Bill Kidd, an Independence Republican, who responded almost immediately, “Intern dress code.”
He was seconded by Republican Rep. Nick King of Liberty.
“We need a good, modest, conservative dress code for both the males and females,” King wrote in an email to colleagues. “Removing one more distraction will help everyone keep their focus on legislative matters.”
Or, you know, the politicians could learn to keep it in their pants…
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill issued a scathing press release earlier today condemning Kidd’s suggestion that the interns are to blame for the politicians’ actions:
Such a recommendation reeks of a desire to avoid holding fully accountable those who would prey upon young women and men seeking to begin honorable careers in public service. Is your recommendation meant to suggest that the ability of adult men and women who have been elected to govern the state of Missouri to control themselves is contingent on the attire of the teenagers and young adults working in their offices? Is your recommendation meant to suggest that if an intern wears suggestive clothing, she or he will share partial responsibility for any potential sexual harassment or assault?
I am immeasurably proud of those young women. And I refuse to stand by idly while any suggestion is made that victims of sexual harassment in the Missouri State Legislature is the responsibility of anyone other than the legislators themselves. It is the responsibility of you and your colleagues to uphold the law, protect the young people working in our state’s capital, and confront and change a culture that excuses sexual violence. This problem has nothing to do with how interns are dressed.
The two female interns who accused LeVota of harassment also released a statement expressing disappointment with the victim-blaming:
Suggestions requiring certain GPAs, increased supervision and mandatory dress codes suggest that the interns are lacking in quality, knowledge, or character and are in some way to blame for the harassment they experience. Additionally, it implies that those perpetuating this behavior are unable to control their own behaviors. Focusing on dress habits and reporting suggests that harassment is about something other than power and control. Unwanted, aggressive attentions from a person in power to a subordinate is about the aggressor’s ability to control that other person’s experience, not about an overtly sexually charged atmosphere.
Following the well-deserved backlash, the new House Speaker Todd Richardson said that the dress code suggestion would not be implemented, adding that there was already a dress code in place for both interns and legislators.
This is the same state, you might recall, where Todd Akin famously claimed that “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Can’t wait for Republican candidates to explain how their party is better for women.