Dossier on sexual misconduct in Labour party sent to Corbyn

Labourtoo gathered 43 accounts by women who suffered harassment and violence

A dossier of 43 stories of harassment, abuse and sexual violence against women at all levels of the Labour party has been submitted to Jeremy Corbyn’s office, prompting calls for the party to reform the way it deals with claims of sexual misconduct.

Women who submitted their stories anonymously to the Labourtoo site over a two-month period gave examples of being raped, serially groped, facing inappropriate sexual comments and being urged not to report what had happened.

The incidents, which took place in political settings ranging from Westminster to all around the country, also highlighted a number of weaknesses in the way Labour has handled the issue in the past.

Among themes that emerged from the stories, which the Labour party has said will be urgently fed into ongoing reviews, were:

  • that problem individuals are “common knowledge” but no action is taken against them.
  • there is low or no confidence in the party’s formal complaint or disciplinary processes.
  • women felt there was a lack of support in taking up their cases, with some actively dissuaded from doing so.

The Labour website, inspired by the #metoo movement, was set up anonymously by six Labour women involved in the party at different levels and has the support of the chair of the women’s parliamentary Labour party (PLP), Jess Phillips.

“I find the report horrifying and I fully support the recommendations being made,” she said. “The women’s PLP have also pushed the party and leadership to consider a completely independent investigation system that means there is no fear or favour for people coming forward. At the moment the NEC is the arbiter and it is too open to political persuasion.”

The report was handed to Corbyn’s office and to senior figures in Labour HQ ahead of a parliamentary debate on proposals to tackle harassment from a cross-party group led by the Tory leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom.

It comes alongside Comres polling for the Young Women’s Trust charity, which lays bare the scale of the problem across Westminster, revealing that 24% of MPs say they have been personally aware of sexual harassment or abuse happening in parliament.

In the poll of more than 150 MPs, 89% of the women and 58% of the men said that sexism still exists in parliament.

The Labour report includes examples from stories that provide evidence of each of the themes outlined. In a section about how problem individuals are known about, “councillor who was very well known to senior figures in the local Labour party for being a serial groper of women” is mentioned. A woman described the man placing his hands around her hips and placing Labour stickers on women in such a way “that meant he could touch her breasts”.

Another described being at a party where an elderly councillor trapped her at the bar and began “rubbing his groin against my back”. When the researcher told others, the response was “well that’s just who he is”.

On low confidence in the system, the group described an intern who said she was sexually harassed by a married male MP at a Christmas party, who was drunk and began “stroking my arm”. But she felt unable to report it as the people whom she could tell would want to protect him.

In another case, an allegation of rape and sexual assault led to someone being asked to resign from his position quietly. “He got away with his reputation intact,” said the woman, calling it unacceptable and essentially a cover-up.

Another woman said “no one cared” about a claim of rape, while in a separate case “lewd, inappropriate sexual comments” made in front of other male party members were brushed off.

The report suggested a lack of safeguards for women in dangerous situations, with an MP “stroking” a woman’s leg at a constituency Labour party fundraiser and then getting into the car she was travelling home in. Another story described a drunk senior party official pushing a woman on to a bed and groping her.

The Labourtoo group, which asked for women in the party to submit their stories, issued a statement saying that while they were prepared for what they found “we found it genuinely distressing to read about this level of inexcusable behaviour taking place within the Labour party”.

They said harassment and abuse weren’t restricted to the corridors of Westminster, but took place at all levels, and that women needed the confidence to report their experiences. “We need a system that is not open to political bias or interference from friends and allies”.

The recommendations include a fully independent complaints process, with panels made up of people with no link to the party, compulsory training for all staff, comprehensive policies to cover bullying, harassment, domestic abuse, sexual assault and more, and a confidentiality process. It also suggests mandatory DBS checks for those seeking selection as candidates.

Labour sources said party procedures had been strengthened, including a hotline for members to report complaints and an independent specialist organisation to offer confidential advice to victims. But they said these shocking stories would help boost understanding and pave the way for further improvements.

Pointing out that harassment and misogyny were widespread problems in society, they said that Labour was committed to overcoming them both within the party and more widely.

While the anonymous reports will not trigger direct action, the party urged those who have suffered harassment or discrimination to make a complaint so they can be fully investigated.

“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,” said a spokeswoman.


Anushka Asthana Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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