Missouri foundation to study sexual harassment in Kansas politics
Topeka ? A Missouri-based foundation that promotes gender equality plans to work with Kansas officials to improve the Legislature’s sexual harassment policy after women complained last week about being harassed at the Kansas Statehouse.
Attorneys for The Women’s Foundation will work with the Kansas legislative counsel and make recommendations to the Legislative Coordinating Council in December, Senate President Susan Wagle announced Monday.
The foundation’s work comes amid accusations made last week by some women that they were harassed or assaulted and legislative leaders did not adequately respond, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported . The foundation did similar work with the Missouri Legislature in 2015.
“Sexual harassment is unacceptable, and it presents a barrier for women to advance professionally and to lead in the future,” Foundation President and CEO Wendy Doyle said in a written statement. “It must not be enabled or tolerated inside or outside the State Capitol.”
Former Democratic Statehouse staffer Abbie Hodgson said last week that she was propositioned, touched inappropriately and harassed while she was chief of staff for then-House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, a Kansas City Democrat. Hodgson did not say who harassed her. She also reported legislators were using female interns as designated drivers.
Former Planned Parenthood lobbyist Elise Higgins and Kelly Schodorf, daughter of former Sen. Jean Schodorf, also said they had been harassed or assaulted and lawmakers they told didn’t take sufficient action.
Wagle said she would like to find out how extensive the sexual harassment was in state politics but it was difficult to investigate the women’s claims because they have not identified their alleged harassers.
“In order to investigate, people need to be very forward about the incidents they experienced, and they need to allow us to investigate them. And we need to do it by name,” Wagle said.
Wagle has said she has not received reports of sexual harassment while she has been Senate president.
The Legislature’s sexual harassment policy requires employees to report their harassment to their supervisor. If the supervisor’s response is inadequate, the complaint can go to the Legislative Administrative Services, led by director Tom Day.
Day said he has had only one formal complaint filed since he became director three years ago. He said victims might hesitate to report harassment because a provision of the policy requires his staff to tell an alleged harasser who the accuser is.