A new report has revealed Labour women have been raped, groped and harassed by men within their own party - with one MP alleged to have preyed on a drunken teenager.
LabourToo - a campaign inspired by the #MeToo movement against sexual harasssment - asked politicians, staff, activists and candidates from across the country to share their stories anonymously to create a detailed picture of the extend of the problem.
Their “shocking and distressing” findings, collated over a two-month period late last year, have now been collated and sent to the party’s London headquarters, where senior officials are under pressure to take action.
Labour MP and equality campaigner Stella Creasy said the women’s stories were “heartbreaking”.
Two separate serious incidents at party conferences were reported, including a rape; “I told my region and an MP I trusted - no-one cared” and a sexual assault; “A senior party official was very drunk. I got him to his hotel and he said he couldn’t remember his room number.
“We got to the third floor and found his room after trial and error. He pushed me down onto the bed and started to kiss and grope me…I told him no and to stop but he ignored it.”
Numerous activists said they had been groped by councillors while out canvassing: “He was very well-known to senior figures in the local Labour Party for being a serial groper of women…he would come up behind me and put a hand on my hips or round my waist and would always want to put ‘Vote Labour’ stickers on women in a way that meant he could touch their breasts.”
Two women recounted having to “bodily put ourselves between an MP and a very drunk teenager he was trying to take advantage of”.
“It was disgusting,” one of them added.
Another said she was harassed at a Christmas party as an intern by a married male MP.
“He got drunk and I remember he was very red in the face and started coming up behind me and stroking my arm,” she said.
“I felt really uncomfortable and not able to report it to the Labour Party because the people I had to tell would have known him and wanted to protect him.”
Most of the 43 women who responded said no proper safeguards were in place for women at work and did not feel confident in Labour’s complaints process for reporting incidents. Those that did raise grievances felt they were brushed off.
“A committee member was accused of rape/sexual assault by two members,” one said.
“He was asked to resign from his position quietly. He got away with his reputation intact. It was dealt with completely unacceptable by the party and essentially covered up because of fears of how it would look to the outside world/media and damage our reputation.”
LabourToo - whose founders have remained anonymous throughout their research to protect themselves and their families - said it hoped the report would make clear such incidents happen at every level within politics - both inside and outside Westminster.
A recent HuffPost UK survey of female MPs revealed dozens had been talked down to, harassed or bullied, while a Parliamentary staff report showed a fifth had been the victim of, or witnessed, sexual harassment.
And a ComRes poll carried out on behalf of the Young Women’s Trust - also released today - revealed more than half of women MPs say they are personally aware of sexual harassment or abuse happening in Westminster.
A LabourToo spokesperson said: “Despite being prepared for it, we have found it genuinely distressing to read about this level of inexcusable behaviour taking place within the Labour Party.
“Sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination is not restricted to the corridors of Westminster, but is taking place at all levels within the Labour Party.
“We want to ensure that women who have been victims of sexual harassment, abuse, assault and discrimination have confidence in reporting their experiences and can do so in the knowledge that everything will be done to ensure perpetrators are held to account.
“We need a system that is not open to political bias or interference from the friends and allies of the usually more powerful men whose behaviour causes the problem in the first place.”
Labour brought in a specialist team from charity Rape Crisis to help deal with complaints late last year, but cross-party calls have been made for a totally independent body to be set up to properly hold perpetrators to account - a proposal which will be debated in the Commons on Wednesday.
“The complaints system needs to be truly independent before women will have faith in its integrity,” LabourToo added.
The report has been passed directly to Jeremy Corbyn, exiting general secretary Iain McNicol and Karon Monaghan QC - who has been appointed to examine the party’s handling of a rape allegation made by activist Bex Bailey - along with its recommendations in full:
- Labour must introduce a fully independent complaints process, including panels made up of people who have no clear link to the Party and who will act to uphold the integrity of the process, rather than to protect individuals concerned, or the party itself.
- Compulsory training for all party staff, elected Labour representatives and key elected officials in local parties.
- A comprehensive set of policies covering bullying and harassment, sexual harassment, domestic abuse, abuse, assault and sexual assault, including clear protections against victimisation for those reporting incidents, in line with the Equality Act.
- A confidentiality policy which requires members not to share confidential information they become aware of as part of the complaints process.
- Mandatory DBS checks for those seeking selection as candidates, both at a national and a local level.
It will also be handed to the party’s ruling National Executive Committee and LabourToo will examine separate recommendations expected to be made in Monaghan’s report later this year.
Creasy, who previously described Westminster as “Hogwarts gone wrong”, said: “This shows that sadly victims of sexual harassment and assault have been the ones dealing with perpetrators rather than the party having a system in place that people can have confidence will deal with these situations effectively.
“It’s vital now we hear this call for change and ensure a truly independent system of investigation so that we can be confident these kinds of abuses won’t happen in the future.”
A party spokesperson said: “Labour is committed to continually improving our procedures, which is why Karon Monaghan QC has been appointed to make an independent assessment of the party’s current procedures for dealing with sexual harassment, and an independent specialist organisation is conducting an audit into the procedures from the perspective of those who have experienced sexual harassment.
“LabourToo’s report will feed into these ongoing reviews, which aim to ensure our procedures are as robust as possible.”
Maria Miller, chair of the women and equalities select committee, which is currently carrying out two harassment inquiries, said: “The work we have carried out into this issue reveals that sexual harassment is a serious problem in many workplaces, affecting thousands of people. We hope to identify solutions with our new inquiry.
“There needs to be a culture change in order to keep women safe as well as providing effective legal remedies.
“We are also going to look at whether non-disclosure agreements are being abused by legal experts and employers to cover up wrongdoing.
“We continue to welcome written evidence submissions on how best to tackle these problems.”