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McCaskill bankrolling hotline to aid embattled interns in Jefferson City

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
Flickr | McCaskill | April 2015

Drawing on her own unsettling experience as a college intern in the Missouri Capitol, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill says she has donated $10,000 to help set up a special hotline for interns confronted by lawmakers’ sexual advances or other unwanted behavior.

McCaskill told reporters Thursday that she gave the money to the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. She emphasized that it’s her own personal money, and not from taxpayers or campaign donors.

McCaskill has been an outspoken critic of some of the inappropriate behavior toward college interns, which forced the state House speaker and a state senator to step down this spring. 

She emphasized that she was pleased that many legislative leaders in both parties appear to be tackling the problem.

But after talking with former interns, she said she believed that legislators aren’t equipped to tackle the key matter of what interns should initially do, if faced with problem lawmakers.

“The biggest issue facing someone who is being harassed in a situation where someone has more power than you have, is ‘Where can I go to find out what I should do?’ And that’s what this hotline would be for,” she said.

A harassed intern, said McCaskill, could use a trusted hotline “to call and get good information about what options they have and what the laws are.”

She decided that it made the best sense to go through an established organization like the coalition, dropping earlier suggestions that a separate agency might be set up. McCaskill is unclear how soon the hotline may be in operation, noting she just donated the money last week.

McCaskill has said the issue resonates with her, in part, because she was a former state Capitol intern herself 40 years ago – and faced similar harassment from some lawmakers.

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.

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