THE BLOG
04/03/2019 15:58 GMT | Updated 04/03/2019 15:58 GMT

Labour Must Get A Grip On Sexual Harassment Complaints With The Same Urgency As Anti-Semitism

Until the party has a fully independent complaints process, how can complainants have faith the system will be fair?

James Robertson / EyeEm via Getty Images

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” writes Ava Etemadzadeh in an eloquent letter to Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson about her lack of faith in the Labour Party’s sexual harassment complaints process, calling on him to personally monitor cases. We’re surprised she is so restrained given the extraordinary delay she’s faced – nearly 16 months, while her case against Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins is not due to be heard until mid-April. The problems she, and a number of other sexual harassment complainants, have faced are simply unacceptable. The leaking of details of Ava’s case to the media before she was informed, as well as the interminable delay is particularly unforgivable. 

Since the #MeToo movement blasted into action in October 2016, LabourToo has been campaigning to ensure the Labour Party’s sexual harassment processes and approach are fit for purpose. We compiled 43 case studies in a report we sent to senior Labour officials in early 2018 which uncovered serious flaws in the Labour Party’s complaints process as well as its culture. We called on the party to institute a fully independent process so that potential victims of sexual harassment can have faith that the system will be fair and not influenced by the political or personal considerations of those who make up National Executive Committee and National Constitutional Convention panels that hear these cases.

We welcome the steps that both the previous and current general secretaries have taken to improve the process, including contracting with Rape Crisis to ensure complainants have independent specialist support and agreeing to engage an independent person to help complainants at the investigatory stage. 

LabourToo, amongst others, has met with the party to talk about our concerns, and they have responded by going some way to introducing independence into the process through independent advice for those coming forward. Yet, despite the support of the Women’s Parliamentary Labour Party and our sisters at Labour Women’s Network, and repeated meetings and submissions, the party will not commit to a fully independent system. 

The central problem with Labour’s process is that the people who sit on the panels which hear cases who are elected on factional platforms and can be seen regularly making partisan pronouncements on social media. No victim, or respondent, can have faith that their case will heard dispassionately when the allegiances of panel members are clearly part of why they were elected in the first place.

This is where we agree with Ava’s call for Tom Watson to get a grip on the process in the same way he has pledged for anti-Semitism complaints. We don’t believe the deputy leader should be hearing directly from complainants (unless they choose to get in touch), but we would very much value him scrutinising the current process and holding the leadership to account for the promises they have made about greater independence. 

Aside from issues around independent processes, the Labour Party has also not committed to releasing data on the number of complainants who have come forward, the number of cases which have been submitted as complaints and how many have reached resolution. We know nothing about the attrition rate of cases, nor do we know anything about cases resolved informally either at the local or national level.

We also agree with Ava that the party should commit to specific timeframes for cases to be concluded. Why would you preside over a system which retraumatises potential victims by keeping them in an almost permanent state of guessing when their nightmare might be resolved? No one should have to wait over 12 months to get closure on a complaint, certainly not as serious as something like sexual harassment. There is also the wider issue of whether staff, elected members and party members are receiving training to change ingrained sexism in the Labour Party. It’s great that those staff who handle complaints have received specialist training in sexual harassment, but that really is the lowest bar to hurdle – if the Party is serious about making strides to kick out harassment from the party, it must commit to much wider reaching measures to shift attitudes so we don’t have victims in the future.

All of these issues were considered by Karon Monaghan QC who was asked to provide a report for the party into the handling of Bex Bailey’s sexual assault, but despite being submitted nearly a year ago, it still hasn’t been published, nor has the party said publicly which of the recommendations they have accepted or rejected and importantly their rationale for doing so. We would urge Tom Watson to read that report as well as our own which we have re-sent to him today and pledge to take action for the victims of sexual harassment in the same way he has for victims of anti-Semitism. 

LabourToo is a campaign set up by Labour women members campaigning against harassment and abuse in the party, and for changes to the party’s complaints process