Missouri Has A Terrible Idea For Preventing Sexual Harassment

Photographed by Julia Robbs.
How should a workplace handle a sexual-harassment scandal? The Missouri legislature has been dealing with a spate of inappropriate conduct, and this week it offered an idea on how to prevent it going forward — albeit a terrible one. A state lawmaker suggested that a "modest, conservative" dress code for interns could keep the state's elected officials from subjecting young workers to unwanted advances.

"Removing one more distraction will help everyone keep their focus on legislative matters," GOP state Rep. Nick King said in an email to colleagues, according to the Huffington Post.

Two lawmakers have been accused of harassing interns this summer: House Speaker John Diehl, a Republican, sent text messages of a sexual nature to a 19-year old intern, which the Kansas City Star subsequently published, and two interns accused Democratic state Sen. Paul LeVota of sexual harassment in July.

Although the proposal has gained support among conservative lawmakers, it has also raised the ire of Missouri Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, who has been a staunch advocate for survivors of sexual assault in the military, as well as at universities and colleges. A dress code, she wrote in a letter, "reeks of a desire to not hold fully accountable those who would prey on young women and men seeking to begin honorable careers in public service.

"Is your recommendation," she continued, "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?"

Lawmakers are expected to deliver proposed changes to the intern program by September, so a victim-blaming dress code could still be abandoned. But even if the next class of young men and women to arrive at the Missouri State Capitol are saved the indignity of being treated like pieces of meat without any sense of business attire, the attitudes of state officials is still dangerously outdated.

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