Scandals involving two former Missouri state legislators have led to a newly-launched online portal in the fight against sexual harassment and discrimination. Matthew Huffman with the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence tells Missourinet the Intern Resource Network includes statewide community outreach programs that promote student safety, respect and equity.
“The workplace can be a very different environment than a college campus,” says Huffman. “We know that this can leave interns in a vulnerable position where there can be an imbalance of power and has the opportunity to result in actions of sexual harassment or discrimination.”
In 2015, former Missouri Republican House Speaker John Diehl, Jr. of Town & Country and Democratic State Senator Paul LeVota of Independence both resigned because of sexual harassment allegations made against them by capitol interns.
The system, which is about a year in the making, includes information about interns’ rights, sexual harassment prevention programs and support services available statewide. Huffman says the system is meant to help interns, college advisors and employers.
“While we know that individual universities have information on students’ rights under Title IX, the state of Missouri has information from the Human Rights Commission, and that our website has information about how to connect with local sexual and domestic violence advocates, there wasn’t a central place where all of those are connected. So when you’re looking at that one central location, we felt like is the best opportunity to be really providing that space where all of these are connected,” says Huffman.
Although the system is Missouri-based, it serves as a model for other states.
The network was made possible by donations from the Women’s Foundation of Kansas City and a $10,000 from U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri. McCaskill has spoken openly about her experiences of being sexually harassed while interning at the state Capitol in the 1970s.