COLUMBIA — If its work gets finished by April, a planning committee hopes to propose a plan to handle on-the-job sexual harassment of Missouri college interns.

Ten representatives of nine private and public colleges including MU met for the first time Friday to discuss a more uniform approach to address the problem of sexual harassment of interns.

“The impetus for this project was largely a result of the whistle-blowing interns who experienced sexual harassment while working in the Capitol,” Matthew Huffman of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence said.

According to Missourian reporting, two Missouri legislators resigned earlier this year because of allegations of inappropriate activities involving interns. Former Republican House Speaker John Diehl resigned in May after sexually charged text messages to an intern surfaced. In July, Sen. Paul LeVota resigned after the state Senate investigated a sexual harassment complaint filed by former intern Alissa Hembree. Another former intern, Taylor Hirth, also said LeVota made sexual advances toward her.

The Missouri House of Representatives voted in November to implement policy changes, including the addition of an intern ombudsman, to address sexual harassment and to provide better oversight for Capitol interns. Although the complaints made by Jefferson City interns generated attention, students experience sexual harassment in other internships besides those at the Capitol.

To address this problem, Sen. Claire McCaskill reintroduced the Campus Accountability and Safety Act back in February, according to Missourian reporting. The bipartisan bill would establish a standardized method for college campuses to handle sexual assault reports and to accommodate the victims and the accused.

After the Capitol scandals, McCaskill asked the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence to form a planning committee to examine sexual harassment and assault specific to internships and externships.

The issues in Jefferson City exposed a gap in how institutions in higher education are dealing with sexual harassment in internships and externships, Huffman said. Friday's meeting focused on determining what procedures, policies and resources already exist.

The Coalition asked members of Partners in Prevention, which represents 21 private and public universities in Missouri, to nominate a representative to the December planning committee meeting, Huffman said. Representatives from the following schools attended Friday's meeting:

  • MU
  • Missouri University of Science and Technology
  • University of Central Missouri
  • Columbia College
  • Missouri Southern State University
  • University of Missouri-St. Louis
  • Missouri State University
  • Harris-Stowe State University
  • Southeast Missouri State University

“The goal is to put forward a plan that is implemented throughout the state so that no matter what Missouri college you attend, the student will know what resources are available to them,” Huffman said.

If a student experiences on-the-job sexual harassment, there are courses of action available, Huffman said.

“We want students to know their full protections, whether that's through Title IX, the Human Rights Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or how to proceed legally,” Huffman said.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 6,862 complaints alleging sexual harassment in 2014. Only 17.5 percent were filed by males.

On Sept. 17, MU's Title IX Office issued its annual report on sexual discrimination. Individuals reported 374 potential policy violations by another student or third party between August 2014 and July 2015. Of those potential violations, the second-most reported violation was sexual harassment, representing 22.7 percent of violations.

“The planning committee will be working over this December, January, February, March with the idea that we will have a plan in place by April of 2016,” Huffman said.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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