A joint statement earlier this week (August 5) by the TUC, Centenary Action Group, the Fawcett Society, Women’s Aid and trade unions representing parliamentary staff (Unite, Prospect, PCS and FDA) said sexual assault and harassment was “endemic” in parliament, as in other workplaces.
The statement calling for action accuses the government of “minimising violence against women and girls” by allowing the MP to keep the Conservative whip, saying there was a “failure to believe victims and survivors when they bravely speak out” and that “…party politics was still interfering in justice and fairness.”
The recent #MeToo campaign highlighted how endemic and pervasive sexual harassment and assault still are in workplaces, including Parliament, and that women are the majority of victims.
The joint statement referred to the 2018 House of Commons report which had revealed that 19 per cent of Westminster staff had experienced sexual harassment in a single year. The inquiry by Dame Laura Cox laid bare the scale of sexual harassment, intimidation and bullying in Westminster and uncovered the culture of ‘deference and silence’ sought to cover up misconduct.
The 2018 review into sexual harassment in parliament demonstrated legislative changes and action needed by all political parties to make parliament a safe workplace for women free from the threat of gender-based violence and harassment.
In addition to suspension, the joint statement also calls for the Conservative Party to suspend the whip of the MP. As the EHRC ‘Sexual harassment and harassment at work’ Technical Guidance makes clear, in a matter as serious as this, it is wholly appropriate for such action to be taken ahead of the conclusion of a criminal investigation.
It urged all political parties to revise their own internal sexual harassment and complaint policies “to ensure that they are transparent, quick, victim-focused and independent, and cover volunteers, employees and elected and appointed representatives so that sexual harassment is prevented.”
I believe the handling of this serious allegation is yet another example of government’s failure to take violence against women seriously.
It is clear that more than two years after Dame Laura Cox’s review, the culture that allows bullying, harassment and sexual harassment to thrive continues.
Parliament cannot be allowed to continue to set itself apart from other workplaces and the safety and the safeguarding of our members, and of all staff, must be paramount.
There remains an urgent need for the voice of staff to be amplified in this workplace and for them to be heard in the discussions of new processes and strategies needed in eliminating the culture of bullying and harassment.
Parliament must provide a safe working environment for its employees and until it does it remains an unsafe and unequal workplace for our members.
In 2013, the statistics bulletin on sexual violence released by the ministry of justice, office for national statistics and home office revealed that only around 15 per cent of those who experience sexual violence report it to the police.
READ THE STATEMENT:
The joint statement in response to rape and sexual assault allegations made against a Conservative MP in full.
By Siobhan Endean, Unite national equalities officer