JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Sexual harassment in politics is nothing new.
In Missouri, the legislature was always and still is largely dominated by men, with women only occupying 44 of the state’s 197 seats.
That’s a female percentage of 22.3 percent, below the national average for state legislatures of 24.9 percent.
It’s not only legislators who claim to have been victims of sexual harassment at the Missouri Capitol.
When U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill was a young intern, she described the environment as borderline predatory.
“It was pretty rough,” said McCaskill. “I learned to avoid elevators. I was spoken to in ways that are shocking today.”
The so-called “problem culture” came to the attention of the public in 2015, when it was revealed that former Speaker of the House John Diehl had been exchanging sexually charged text messages with a female staff member.
That same year, Paul Levota, the senator from Independence, was accused by multiple staffers of sexual harassment and misconduct.
Soon after, both legislators resigned, stirring a new priority on ethic reform and an overhaul of harassment policies.
“When Speaker Richardson became the speaker, he felt like the house really needed to have a much stronger commitment to sexual harassment and training,” said Adam Crumbliss, chief clerk for the Missouri House of Representatives. “We did an extensive policy review and really looked at things through policy and procedure.“
One notable policy update was to the procedure for processing a complaint of harassment.
Under house rules, any report that involves a legislator will be investigated by outside counsel.
A map of how the investigations are handled in the Missouri House of Representatives can be seen below.
The number of times this process has had to be utilized has steadily increased since 2015.
That year, there was one report filed in the House of Representatives. In 2016, there were two reports filed, and the number doubled again in 2017.
Crumbliss and others attribute the spike to social movements, such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, that have removed the stigma surrounding the issue and emboldened victims.
Moreover, Crumbliss said that Missouri’s state legislature was forced to deal with the issue of inter-office misconduct long before those social movements rose to the forefront of national discourse.
This year, the Associated Press performed a 50-state poll found that a majority of state legislatures in the U.S. are considering strengthening their policies for the first time in years.
“Several other state legislatures that are updating their own harassment policies have reached out to us to see what is working or not working here in Missouri,” said Crumbliss.
The Missouri Senate would not provide information about how many reports have been filed or any information about its harassment training curriculum.
The Missouri Senate licenses its training through Business and Legal Resources Incorporated, a firm that provides online human resource services.
Senate administrator Patrick Baker told ABC 17 News that the license agreement with BLR restricts his office from disclosing the training curriculum.
MU communications professor Debbie Dougherty has been studying the composition of sexual harassment policies in the workplace and found that there can be a downfall for a one-size-fits-all approach.
“Many policies are still based on a series of checklists,” said Dougherty. “Many of them are purchased off the shelf, so they’re not culturally specific. There should be some similarities but if we believe that every culture is unique, those policies need to be written for that culture.”
While no workplace is perfect, Crumbliss said as long as the system is always evolving and working to improve, Missouri’s General Assembly is on the right track.
“Our capitol building should be a leader on issues like this,” said the chief clerk. “The dialogue and free expression is of paramount importance to our state and our citizenry.”
The full training curriculum for the Missouri House of Representatives can be viewed by following this link.