I was assaulted by a Labour colleague, but the party didn’t take it seriously
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In the past week my social media feed has been dominated by women recounting their stories of harassment, abuse and assault with the #MeToo hashtag. It came as no surprise to me that women from all across the country had been treated in such ways, but the sheer numbers of my close friends, family and colleagues who came forward to tell their horrific stories has shocked me.
It was off the back of reading all these stories that I and some other Labour women conceived of #LabourToo, a website that allows women in the Labour party to anonymously share their stories of harassment, assault and abuse, given how difficult many women involved with the party find it to speak out.
My complaint was swept under the carpet, and the perpetrators continue to play a part in my everyday life in the party
I have been a proud member of the Labour party since I was a teenager, and have given more hours than I can count to door-knocking and phonebanking. But over those years I have heard countless stories and experienced myself how women within my party have been treated when they have tried to raise concerns about the behaviour of their comrades.
I am ashamed of the way the Labour party currently handles some cases of harassment, abuse and assault brought to them by its members. Our rules are outdated, with no clear guidelines on appropriate behaviour (not that we should need them in this day and age); there is no way of connecting patterns of behaviour, or the experiences of different women of the same perpetrator over a period of time; and without impartial investigation, there are too many individual interests and friends being protected.
In my experience of reporting such behaviour to the party, I have felt completely let down. I was the victim of assault by a Labour member, who held a position of responsibility and was influential in the party. It was only after more than one report of an incident – and the fear it would become public knowledge – that action was taken.
As far as those I complained to were concerned, they had removed the person in question from their position, and that was that. But I am left working alongside those who protected him, who didn’t act when they should have done, and those who, to this day, still don’t believe that it happened. And I continue to be harassed as a result of them being in post.
When I reported this, I expected to find support from my party. Instead, I had to repeat my story multiple times to many different members of staff, and face the direct suggestion that I might not want to pursue my complaint if I wanted a future in Labour. After months of pursuing it, I am sorry to say I gave up; they had worn me down and I had no fight left. I let them win. My complaint was swept under the carpet, and the perpetrators continue to play a part in my everyday life within the party.
Someone with more sense might have walked away – thought it wasn’t worth the weekly battles, or the experience of being subtly threatened, undermined, and belittled. But I vowed to stay on, and not let those individuals take my role away from me.
So instead, I looked for women who had had similar experiences, and together we made a commitment to confronting the way the party deals with harassment and violence. I might have given up on my individual case but I am not willing to give up on fighting for all those who feel they can’t fight any more.
It’s why I have chosen to speak out, and why I’ve been involved with setting up #LabourToo. It isn’t about naming and shaming; it’s about putting pressure on a party that has a strong public stance on gender equality to apply those principles to the way it runs itself. Through #LabourToo we wanted to give Labour women across the country the chance to tell their stories anonymously and in a safe space.
We may be anonymous, but we are not silent. And we are asking women who are as passionate as we are about making our party better to share their stories too. Together we can make the Labour party the champion for women’s rights – not just publicly, but also in the way it lives its own values.
In this spirit, we’re asking the Labour party to commit to a number of steps. We want to see it set up third party reporting, with support for independent specialists that allow allegations of harassment to be investigated without prejudice and a simple process for reporting allegations securely and confidentially. We think the party needs a comprehensive set of policies on bullying and harassment, sexual harassment and assault, and domestic abuse. And all party staff, elected officials and those holding voluntary positions within the party should get safeguarding training. Surely this isn’t too much to ask?
• The writer is a female Labour councillor who wishes to remain anonymous
Women in politics
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