Sexual harassment claims could end House intern program

9 months 6 days 12 hours ago Wednesday, February 07 2018 Feb 7, 2018 Wednesday, February 07, 2018 11:14:00 AM CST February 07, 2018 in News
By: Jalyn Henderson, KOMU 8 Reporter
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JEFFERSON CITY - A Missouri lawmaker wants the House to suspend its intern program and strengthen its sexual harassment policies.

Rep. Courtney Allen Curtis, a Democrats from Ferguson, said the House culture hasn't improved enough since former House Speaker John Diehl, Jr. resigned in May 2015 after admitting to sending sexually suggestive text messages to an intern.

Curtis originally made the request to suspend the program in December. But he didn't get any direct responses from the House chief clerk, so he decided to make his claim public.

"We've given the House all the time in the world and opportunity to deliberate over the situation and see if that made sense," Curtis said. "If anything happens I would say that the person who would have to take responsibility would be the chief clerk."

KOMU 8 News did not speak to House Chief Clerk Adam Crumbliss Wednesday, but he told the Associated Press Monday that ending the program would be detrimental to students and detrimental to the global discussion about sexual harassment.

Since 2015, there have been six formal sexual harassment claims filed. At least four of them had outside attorneys hired to investigate. The results of the investigations have not been made public.

The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Sexual Violence defines sexual harassment as a sexual form of discrimination that's unwelcome, severe and pervasive.

"Sexual harassment can occur anywhere, in any environment," the coalition's public relations director, Matt Huffman, said. "Sexual harassment is strikingly underreported in workplaces, so we know that it occurs, we know the people are experiencing it on a daily basis."

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission there are two types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

Quid pro quo is when a manager or other authority figure offers an employee and incentive, like a raise, in return for a sexual act. A hostile work environment occurs when an employee receives unwelcome advances, sexual innuendos, or offensive gender-related language.

In 2017, the Association of Women for Action and Research reported that 17 percent of employees were harassed by their superior. They found 79 percent of sexually harassed employees were women, and 21 percent were men. 

"Women overwhelmingly experience sexual harassment, but we know that regardless of gender, anyone can experience sexual harassment," Huffman said.

Curtis said he hasn't witnessed an inappropriate behavior between legislators and their interns, but he said they all have different relationships with one another. He has two House interns of his own, who work independently on various projects.

"With the interns, to allow them to be in this capitol, we need to take that extra step to protect them because if they're harmed today that sticks with them, potentially for life," Curtis said.

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