The recent Hollywood scandals prompted a wave of revelations within our own government here in the UK with regards to sexual misconduct. In this article, Katie condemns not only those who have taken advantage of their power for their own sexual gratification, but also those who have allowed it to happen, advocating for change in a system that allows acts such as these to be dismissed or simply go unnoticed.
Westminster: The Grimy Iceberg
Innocent until proven guilty is an essential corner stone of British democracy and judiciary. Or is it? In recent weeks as allegations of sexual harassment, assault and rape have been mounting and the number of men in the public eye whose reputation remains unscathed is rapidly falling: the British public have become the jury that never acquits. Some people find this unforgiving climate suffocating and think the limited room for ‘mistakes’ or ‘misunderstandings’ is creating a spiritless and more politically correct society. On the other hand, many people feel that this has been a long time coming and that to ignore the glaring facts and do nothing now would be a most abhorrent of crimes. It can not be disputed that this is only the beginning of what is a watershed moment for institutional sexism and sexual misconduct, and that unfortunately we have only reached the tip of what is sure to be a very grimy iceberg.
Whilst accusations against American celebrities Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and even Gossip Girl’s Ed Westwick have been dominating the international headlines, it is the allegations made against British MPs that will have much greater significance for the British public. The most high-profile of such allegations are those made against Conservative Ex Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon, who has admitted to repeatedly touching the journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer’s knee at a conference dinner. There are other allegations made against Fallon and the Observer even claims that No.10 have been compiling a list of these for some time, suggesting that there could be much more serious accusations still to be revealed. Fallon accepts that in the past he has ‘behaved inappropriately’, though many people have been questioning whether such behaviour is really ancient history.
Alongside accusations against Michael Fallon, there has been another high-profile incident of sexual harassment claims. This is less due to the seniority of the politician involved but more because of his response to the allegations. Carl Sargeant was a Welsh Labour AM who was informed of allegations of unspecified sexual misconduct made against him and subsequently fired from the Welsh Labour Party on the 3rd of November. Four days later he committed suicide. The specifics of the allegations are still unknown and there have been many questions raised regarding the First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones’s handling of the situation. This raises another topical issue surrounding what responsibilities organisations should take for the actions of their employees and highlights a reason why so often allegations are swept under the carpet, because those in charge fear repercussions for their own careers. In addition, within organisations it is also common for those who have been sexually assaulted not to report it because they are afraid of the impact it will have on their current jobs and careers. This is undoubtedly not the way things should be. Silence abut sexual harassment and abuse is never the answer and the British public should wait for facts before accusing any whistle-blowers of falsification and organisations should undoubtedly never threaten the jobs of anyone making allegations.
Aside from these better-known cases there are currently seven Conservative MPs and four Labour MPs who been accused of sexual misconduct and will therefore be some of the many MPs under investigation by the new independent body. This body has been set up in an attempt to ‘drain the swamp’ that is the British Parliament in 2017 and therefore it is vital that this body remains impartial. As a result, it can not allow politically motivated corruption to infiltrate any of its members and meanwhile it must swiftly investigate allegations and dismiss any MPs necessary. However, an independent body can only go so far and cooperation from MPs and others involved in government is essential if the investigation is going to be success.
Furthermore, outside the grounds of Westminster it is vital that people become engaged with this pertinent issue. We must not allow ourselves to become victim blamers who can not accept the gravity and importance of allegations, and we certainly must not try to quell the voices of the brave women and men who are standing up. The courage that this takes should never be underplayed, as a society where the person who has violated you appears so powerful and well connected is a very difficult society in which to come forward. We must show people that their experiences will never be ignored and that this is a country that listens to those who are most vulnerable and takes times to give them the respect that they deserve. Unfortunately, sexual harassment, assault and rape are globally significant issues, but alongside this they are national issues and it is becoming increasingly apparent that these are your and my issues too, We have a duty to disinfect the grimy iceberg of Westminster.
By Katie Wharton