One of the proposed “solutions” to the harassment of legislative interns in Jefferson City received significant derision today.
A letter from Senator Claire McCaskill (D):
United States Senate
August 18, 2015
Representative Nick King
District 17, Missouri General Assembly
Missouri House of Representatives
201 West Capitol Avenue
Jefferson City, MO 65101
Dear Representative King:
Victim-blaming in the context of sexual violence is as old as the crime itself. I saw victims blamed for the crimes against them as a courtroom prosecutor of sex crimes, and as elected prosecutor for Jackson County.
I saw young women held responsible for the harm done to them by others. I even saw a few law enforcement officials sometimes unwilling to pursue justice because of the victim’s behavior prior to the crime. “She was asking for it,” is a sentence I have longed to see stripped from our cultural vocabulary.
Victim-blaming obscures justice, and undermines a process that should be based solely on factual evidence, not on a desire to skirt accountability.
And so I was bitterly disappointed to read press accounts of your suggestion that, as policies are developed to better protect interns working in the Missouri State Legislature from sexual harassment and assault, you thought an intern dress code was the answer.
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 approach this issue as a former prosecutor of sex crimes, a U.S. senator who is working to curb sexual violence on a national scale, and as a mother and grandmother. I also approach it as a former Missouri state legislator – and previous to that, a former intern in the Missouri State legislature who confronted sexual harassment from male legislators.
As I have said of those times, I am not sure that I handled the harassment correctly. I believe younger generations of women and men are growing stronger in the face of such unacceptable behavior – including recent interns working in the State legislature who have spoken out and held powerful legislators to account.
I am immeasurably proud of these 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 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.
I ask that you clarify or withdraw your suggestion of a dress code for interns as a means of combatting sexual harassment – and that you redouble your efforts to confront the real and systemic causes of such behavior.
United States Senator
And via Twitter:
Eli Yokley @eyokley
One of the remedies #MOLeg-ers suggested in response to sexual harassment of interns? A dress code. For the interns. [….] 9:01 AM – 18 Aug 2015
Eli Yokley @eyokley
the notion that a dress code might combat sexual harassment by grown adults at the #MOLeg says a lot more about them than the young interns. 9:36 AM – 18 Aug 2015
Jason Rosenbaum @jrosenbaum
. @Rep_TRichardson puts kibosh on intern dress code as backlash intensifies [….] 4:43 PM – 18 Aug 2015
Sarah Felts @sarahfelts
I was in an A-line pleated knee-length skirt & an Oxford buttoned up to the collar bone. It’s not about clothes. #MoLeg #MoLegDressCode 5:13 PM – 18 Aug 2015
Yael T. Abouhalkah @YaelTAbouhalkah
Good news: Missouri House speaker won’t support idiotic dress code change for interns [….] 5:31 PM – 18 Aug 2015
Emily Abouhalkah @emilyabouhalkah
Things that cause sexual harassment: 1) sexual harassers 2) placid acceptance of the above #MOLEG 10:34 AM – 18 Aug 2015
Tom Riley @ThomasKRiley
Remember that this #moleg that can’t trust itself with distractions of a short dress thinks it’s fine with unlimited campaign contributions 6:46 PM – 18 Aug 2015
That’s just a sampling.
Ruh, roh… (May 13, 2015)
What? We’re all what? May 13, 2014)
A big Diehl in Jefferson City (May 14, 2015)
No Diehl in Jefferson City (May 14, 2015)
A new leaf? (May 15, 2015)
Uh, oh… (July 23, 2015)
Sen. Paul LeVota (D) resigns (July 24, 2015)