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Harassment claims at Missouri Capitol inspire intern website

Harassment claims at Missouri Capitol inspire intern website

August 23rd, 2017 by Associated Press in Missouri News

Above is a screenshot of a new website, at www.mointernnetwork.org, aimed at providing sexual harassment resources to interns following past allegations of misconduct at Missouri's Capitol.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Groups unveiled a website Wednesday aimed at helping Missouri interns identify and respond to sexual harassment at the workplace, following recent claims of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior directed at interns at the Legislature.

The site has information on student rights and preparing for an internship, and how to identify harassment. It also has advice for student advisers and internship supervisors on how to create a safe environment for interns.

"We want students to know they are not alone if they experience unwanted sexual contact while at their internship placement and they have options for changing placement if unwanted contact occurs," said Joan Masters, senior coordinator of the higher education coalition Partners in Prevention.

Partners in Prevention and the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence created the site amid efforts to address past claims of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior toward interns by state lawmakers.

Former Democratic state Sen. Paul LeVota stepped down in 2015 following allegations that he sexually harassed interns, which he repeatedly denied. He resigned in 2015. Months earlier, former Republican House Speaker John Diehl left office after admitting that he sent sexually suggestive texts to an intern.

The scandals rocked the Capitol and led to calls for change. In response, Diehl's successor, Republican House Speaker Todd Richardson, recommended changes to House harassment policy with input from the Women's Foundation. The changes, which were adopted, include mandatory annual sexual harassment training for all members and staff.

Richardson said in a statement that the website will help ensure "a healthy and safe work environment both in the Capitol and in workplaces throughout the state."

While the website will be shared with Capitol interns, advocates say it can also be useful for interns at other public or private jobs. The site includes a list of resource centers at colleges and universities, as well as a list of local advocacy groups who can help answer student questions or help in cases of harassment. There also are resources for both student advisers and intern supervisors.

Matthew Huffman, prevention director at the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, described it as a "centralized clearinghouse of information."

A $10,000 personal donation from Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, who has said she was harassed during her time in the Legislature as both an intern and lawmaker, and a grant from the Women's Foundation funded the site. McCaskill in a statement said harassment is a persistent problem and touted the creation of the website.