November 2, 2017; Kansas City Star
The Kansas legislature made headlines recently after a string of allegations shed light on the rampant harassment occurring within the statehouse. A former intern at the Kansas statehouse sums up how many interns likely feel and why they may not report harassment:
It’s a regular occurrence, hearing comments. It’s like, “Oh my gosh, why would you say that? It’s super inappropriate and you’d never say that to a male intern.” But you’re also like, “Okay, I really like this internship and it’s a good opportunity,” so you’re willing to ignore things that were said, which sucks because you shouldn’t have to.
In light of these allegations and the barriers interns face in reporting harassment, the Kansas legislature has asked the Missouri-based nonprofit Women’s Foundation to review their sexual harassment policy and recommend updates to the decades-old document.
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Women’s Foundation has a long history in this space, most recently working with the Missouri legislature to combat the pervasive harassment occurring in that capital. In partnership with the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and Partners in Prevention, the collaboration took a two-pronged approach to addressing harassment. First, they developed a system called the Intern Resource Network, which offers a safe space for interns to report harassment. The site provides interns with such information as how to identify harassment, what protections are available to them under Title IX, and how to seek immediate assistance in the case of harassment, as well as with advocates that are available across the state to help. Second, the groups provided education to employers and policymakers surrounding best practices in preventing and reporting sexual harassment.
Beyond the collaboration, the Women’s Foundation has several initiatives that address the dearth of female leaders in male-dominated fields, which can contribute to creating a culture of harassment both inside and outside of government.
Two years after seeing some success with the Missouri legislature, Wendy Doyle, Women’s Foundation’s president and CEO, is ready to take on the Kansas statehouse. In a public comment addressing the legislature, Doyle said, “This is now a national issue, and it needs to be addressed…This can be an opportunity to not only update policies but restore employee and public confidence.”—Sheela Nimishakavi