Sigh. Politicians tried to institute a super-strict dress code for interns to stop politicians from sexually harassing interns

Get ready for a big sigh moment. Ready? Okay, then you can keep reading: Missouri lawmakers decided it would be a good idea to make the State House interns responsible for their own sexual harassment by implementing a super-strict dress code, but came to their senses when the Internet broke coming to the interns defense.

Missouri politicians have been plagued with sexual harassment problems for years, and legislators have been kicking around some suggested solutions to the problem. It’s great that they’ve taken the issue seriously and that they want to take steps to correct it. What’s not so great, however, is the tactic they chose. Not long after House Speaker John Diehl was forced to resign following a text scandal with an intern, whiffs of the new dress code started to materialize.

The Kansas City Star reports that suggested changes to intern policies should include, “ a good, modest, conservative dress code for both the males and females.” Republican Representative Nick King wrote in an email to colleagues, “Removing one more distraction will help everyone keep their focus on legislative matters.” Yes, you read that correctly; the proposed solution to the problem of politicians sexually harassing their interns implied that the victimized interns themselves dressed inappropriately, causing a “distraction” with their attire. More and more, such logic is being rejected even in regards to middle and high school dress code. To imply that elected officials (or adult humans in general) are so “distracted” by another human’s choice in clothing as to be driven to acts of sexual harassment is, at best, insulting to said officials and, at worst, part of a deeply problematic way of thinking with broad and dire repercussions. 

Thankfully, this story has a happier ending than many other recent dress code controversies. Once the suggested dress code went wide, there was significant — and justifiable — blowback from opponents to the changes. Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, a Kansas City Democrat, said a dress code isn’t the problem, but that “harassing interns is.” He later added, “If my plaid jacket or the sight of a woman’s bare knee distracts you from your legislative duties, I would look for other work.” Yes. Yes to that. 

The Star reports Senator Claire McCaskill went even further, sending heated letters to the legislators saying the proposed bill, “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.”

Sen. McCaskill’s accusations of victim-blaming are one of many. The social media universe took up the issue, causing the hashtag #MoLeg to start trending.

Fortunately, the backlash and social media campaigning helped to quash the proposed dress code, causing House Speaker Todd Richardson to release a statement assuring everyone it’s a no-go.

Unfortunetly, this type of victim-shaming has become a pervasive and damaging part of our culture. It’s reassuring to know that the Missouri House did the right thing in the end. Maybe this will send a message to others in the future.

(Image via iStockPhoto.)