At least one Missouri lawmaker wants the state House to suspend its intern program and further strengthen its sexual harassment policies amid an increase in complaints about inappropriate conduct over the past couple of years.
Rep. Courtney Allen Curtis, a Ferguson Democrat, said Monday that the environment in the House hasn’t improved enough since former Speaker John Diehl Jr. resigned in May 2015 after sending sexually suggestive text messages to an intern.
This leaves us, and I’m sure many others, to say are you kidding me? Yes, strengthen the policies, but let’s start demanding more from our lawmakers or let’s get them out of office and fast. The intern program is not the problem; it’s the powerful men who think they can, and often do, get away with it.
The Associated Press reported Saturday that the House has handled six formal sexual harassment complaints since it strengthened its policies in November 2015, including at least four for which outside attorneys were hired to investigate claims involving lawmakers.
That was twice as many complaints as the House received in the two previous years — twice as many. What we don’t know is whether alleged sexual instances actually have increased or whether lawmakers and staff simply feel more comfortable reporting allegations, which would indicate the new policies are working.
Curtis feels the House intern program should be suspended until “the culture has sufficiently changed” in the Capitol. Changing the culture won’t happen overnight, it will take years, and where does that leave the intern program? The majority of lawmakers do act appropriately and the interns are there to enhance their knowledge about government so shuttering the program is not fair, but keeping our interns safe should be a top priority.
Why are people in positions of power so often doing the harassing? Research finds that power can warp a person’s perception of others and alter their behavior. Other studies state the power can make you more impulsive and less concerned about the effects of your action.
Chief Clerk Adam Crumbliss, the top administrator in the House Chamber, said terminating or canceling the intern program at this point would be detrimental to students, the process and ultimately to the entire discussion that’s going on globally right now about sexual harassment.
While we don’t think the #MeToo movement will end sexual harassment, we hope it’s changing the stigma of sexual assault and harassment, and providing a more supportive environment where women will come forward and report abuse. This is where stronger policies come into play and quick action must be taken when these incidents come to light.
The House held what was supposed to be a mandatory training session for staff and lawmakers in January, which lasted about three times longer than last year’s session. That training is important and should be expanded to more than once a year.
The House also increased its number of mandated reporters and required that outside attorneys be hired to investigate sexual harassment complaints involving lawmakers. All good moves, but again more could be done.
Don’t throw out the interns, they are not the problem. We need swifter action when these incidents are reported and if found to be true, zero tolerance for the offenders. Let’s instead throw out lawmakers and staff who are the problem.