We hardly need more examples that victim-blaming is alive and well, but the world keeps giving them to us. After two Missouri lawmakers were forced to resign over sexual harassment allegations, some of their colleagues leapt to the eminently reasonable conclusion that none of this would have happened if those harlot interns hadn’t been dressed so provocatively:
Among the first suggested additions to Engler’s list came from Rep. Bill Kidd, an Independence Republican, who responded almost immediately, “Intern dress code.”
He was seconded by Republican Rep. Nick King of Liberty.
“We need a good, modest, conservative dress code for both the males and females,” King wrote in an email to colleagues. “Removing one more distraction will help everyone keep their focus on legislative matters.”
Rep. Kathy Swan, a Cape Girardeau Republican, said in an email that dress codes are common HR policies in the workplace.
“The most valuable and valid internship experiences are ones where interns are embedded in the work environment, which includes the same/similar job expectations as employees, including dress code,” Swan said.
It’s jaw-dropping that elected representatives (or anyone) are still engaging in this kind of idiocy in 2015. There are plenty of men who manage to treat women in a professional manner, regardless of how they look or what they wear. Not that we need it, but Anna Merlan at Jezebel shares proof that this very approach did nothing to stop the sexual harassment:
In February, college senior Alissa Hembree found herself the subject of LeVota’s still-creepy attentions. She told the Kansas City Star that she cut off 22 inches of her hair to “seem more invisible” to the senator and stopped wearing dresses and heels to the office. That didn’t work. She cut her internship short, working two months instead of the planned five. LeVota, too, ultimately was forced to resign.
It’s heartbreaking that Hembree even went to these lengths and was bullied out of an internship that could have led to professional opportunities. Merlan adds, “Presumably when that doesn’t work, the House will consider a dress code for lawmakers that involves a sturdy chastity belt and the blinders that carriage horses wear.” I’m sure they’d still find a way to sext teenagers.
Senator Claire McCaskill, who previously served as an intern, state legislator, and prosecutor of sex crimes in Missouri, wrote a scathing letter to the legislators who suggested the dress code:
Such a recommendation 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. Is your recommendation meant to suggest that the ability of adult men and women who have been elected to govern the state of Missouri to control themselves is contingent on the attire of the teenagers and young adults working in their offices? Is your recommendation meant to suggest that if an intern wears suggestive clothing, she or he will share partial responsibility for any potential sexual harassment or assault?
Democratic legislators objected to the dress code idea and it has been scrapped. But as McCaskill writes, “Victim-blaming in the context of sexual violence is as old as the crime itself,” and it sadly doesn’t seem on its way out.