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Politically Speaking: Consultant Brittany Burke on Jefferson City culture and 'victim shaming'

Brittany Burke
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

On the latest edition of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies welcome Brittany Burke to the program. This marks the first time that Burke, a governmental consultant, has spoken at length publicly about recent events that put her in the news.

Burke is the owner of Tactas, a public relations and communications firm that she founded close to two years ago. Before starting her firm, Burke served in Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration and, earlier, was the communications director for the Missouri Democratic Party. The St. Louis native and Webster University graduate also has worked for KPLR-TV and KTRS.

Burke attracted unwanted press attention this spring, a few months after she went to police in early April believing she had been the victim of a sexual assault or rape. The police report, which was released by law enforcement without her knowledge, included her detailed interviews. 

Among other things, the report took note that she previously had a relationship with then-House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, before he ascended to the House's top post. The two have acknowledged they had a relationship in early 2014. Burke went to see Diehl for help after she had been assaulted.

Burke and her lawyer, David Steelman, are concerned that police have closed her case without processing her rape kit, which includes potential evidence. Police maintain that she asked to close to the case, which Burke denies.

In any case, according to Burke, she had hoped to keep the episode private. She sought to "not make it a part of typical Capitol gossip. It was something that I wanted to be my secret that no one ever knew about that, I dealt with my very close friends and family," she said.

When it became public, Burke said, "My secret was taken from me ... the public shaming that I experienced as a rape victim and the 'victim blaming' that I experienced is unprecedented."

Here are some of Burke's other observations during the show:

  • Burke said there's a culture of "double standards between men and women" and "victim shaming/victim blaming" that goes beyond the state Capitol and Jefferson City. "It is unfortunately still a part of society," she said.
  • As a result, she contended that attitude affects "how daily business is conducted, how policies are shaped, and how individuals are treated in the Capitol building."
  • From talking with veterans in the Missouri Capitol, Burke says legislative term limits have made things worse because lawmakers no longer treat public service as a career.
  • Reflecting on her own experience, Burke said "it is very important to me that what happened to me does not deter other sexual harassment, sexual assault or rape victims from coming forward to seek help." 
  • Burke is seeking state legislation to require that hospitals have staff with expertise in rape cases available at all times. In her case, she says she had to wait four hours at a hospital before a nurse was available to conduct the proper exams -- a delay that Burke believes may have resulted in key evidence being lost, such as whether she had been drugged.
  • Several college-age interns and other young women working in the Capitol have reached out to Burke in recent months, offering support and seeking guidance.

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Follow Brittany Burke on Twitter: @BrittanyHBurke

Music: “No Answers” by Thursday

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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