St. Louis Public Radio: Missouri legislative leaders confident that interns are safer from harassment

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A new website is being promoted as a tool to help student interns at the Missouri Capitol deal with harassment. But it will still be up to interns to initiate any accusations of improper behavior.  

The site is called the Intern Resource Network, and it’s among the latest changes that backers say should provide more protection to interns.   The creators say they were spurred by issues a couple years ago with interns at the state Capitol, but the website doesn’t make that distinction. 

Instead, the site offers general advice about how to recognize harassment  and what to do about it. It’s aimed at any interns anywhere in the state, and their potential employers.

Part of the new website aimed at providing interns with information to protect them from sexual harassment.
Credit Screenshot
 

“We wanted to make this extremely broad for any intern and for any public or private sector business,’’ says Wendy Doyle, president of the Women’s Foundation. The Kansas City-based group helped bankroll the website, along with U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, herself a former Capitol intern.

Although the creators call the website a “portal,’’ that’s not really accurate. The website is not interactive.

“The portal itself won’t take complaints for anyone to investigate,’’ said Matthew Huffman, prevention director for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. The nonprofit helped create the site. “The portal is really meant to help students be able to identify when sexual harassment might be occurring.”

Victims would still have to figure out where to lodge their complaints.

The founding groups point to the scandals two years ago at the Capitol.  Accusations of inappropriate behavior with interns forced the Republican House speaker and a Democratic state senator to step down. The incidents prompted some colleges to withdraw from the internship program.

Current House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Republican from Poplar Bluff,  has overseen policy changes over the past two years that bar any “amorous’’ relationships between lawmakers, their staff or interns.  He says the changes have prompted the defecting schools to return.

“What our policy calls for, anytime we have a complaint, is it calls for investigation by outside counsel and then ultimate resolution through the Ethics Committee in the House.”

Since early 2016, six harassment complaints have been filed. But it’s unclear if interns were involved. The details aren’t public.

Richardson said it’s taken a little longer than he’d like to get all the changes in place, but he’s happy with the overall result.

“Our goal was to make sure that everybody had the confidence that the House of Representatives was going to be a good, safe working environment, so the interns who come to the Capitol can get the kind of quality experience that they deserve.”

State Sen. Jill Schupp, a Democrat from Creve Coeur, is pleased with many of the changes. As for the new website, she said it will be helpful — if interns know enough about it.

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

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