Proposed dress code for capitol interns draws criticism

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INDEPENDENCE, MO (KCTV) – A firestorm has erupted after two Republican lawmakers proposed a dress code for interns in the wake of recent scandals that led two Missouri legislators to resign.

The lawmakers, who were both elected in 2014, say a dress code would help prevent sexual harassment.

The proposal came from Rep. Bill Kidd of Independence and Rep. Nick King of Liberty.

“Modesty is always the best policy,” King said. “Having a modest dress code that is going to eliminate any temptations to look harder or further either way male to female, female to male just makes a lot sense.”

U.S. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, immediately criticized the proposal, saying it is victim blaming. She said Tuesday that she is “bitterly disappointed” that lawmakers think a dress code is a solution to the need to protect interns.

“Victim-blaming obscures justice and undermines a process that should be based solely on factual evidence, not on a desire to skirt accountability,” wrote McCaskill, a former Missouri lawmaker who herself battled sexual harassment as a capitol intern. “(Recommending a dress code) reeks of a desire to avoid holding fully accountable those who would prey upon young women and men seeking to begin honorable careers in public service.”

Missouri lawmakers have been under pressure to take action since former House Speaker John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, resigned as the session concluded in May. He acknowledged that he had exchanged sexually suggestive text messages with a 19-year-old Capitol intern.

Then last month, Senator Paul LeVota, D-Independence, submitted his resignation following allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances toward interns. The Democrat denied the allegations, but they prompted party leaders to question his ability to serve.

While King and Kidd deny that they are blaming the victims, they say what interns wear matters.

“There are times when I purposefully look away from certain circumstances,” King said. “I don’t think we need any of that.”

Taylor Hirth, a former LeVota intern whose proof of texts between him and her helped lead to his resignation, said she is insulted by the implication that she wore led to LeVota’s texts of a sexual nature.

“To insinuate that the way we’re dressed impacts their ability to police themselves and they don’t have the inner strength to behave themselves,” she said. “It leaves me speechless that they’re trying to blame us, put the blame on the interns when we’re already in a position where we don’t have power in the situation.”

Rep. Jeremy Lafaver, D-Kansas City, said attire should not affect job performance.

“If the sight of a bare knee is too distracting for somebody to do their legislative work they should probably look for a different line of work,” he said.

By DeAnn Smith

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