A domestic abuse survivor has said she is standing as a candidate in Bury South to encourage other women to speak out about sexual harassment or abuse.
Gemma Evans, 36, will be representing the Women’s Equality party in a general election in the Greater Manchester seat held by Ivan Lewis, who was under investigation by the Labour party for sexual harassment before quitting in December 2018. He denies the allegation.
The WEP is urging Labour, who have announced an all-women shortlist for the seat, to adopt its policies in return for its candidate standing down.
In his resignation letter, Lewis cited Labour’s record on antisemitism and fears that the disciplinary process against him was “subject to political manipulation”. His departure meant the party’s investigation into the allegations was never concluded.
He voted in favour of holding an early general election in September, indicating that he was likely to stand again as an independent candidate. However, his office declined to confirm whether Lewis would seek re-election when approached on Thursday.
Evans, who works as a motivational speaker and domestic violence campaigner, said she was shocked that despite a wave of sexual harassment and abuse accusations sweeping Westminster in the wake of the #MeToo scandal, many of the accused MPs were still standing for re-election.
When she saw the WEP’s announcement in August that they would stand against Lewis, she immediately put herself forward.
She said she could not change what had happened to her, but might be able to stop it happening to others “by standing up and speaking out for women who haven’t got a voice of their own” and “bringing it to the attention of Westminster”.
Evans said her former partner tried to kill her after an 18-month relationship in which she was the victim of coercive control, a concept she had no idea existed at the time.
“I thought domestic abuse was a hit, a punch or a slap,” she said. “I was a strong, independent woman who had a good career, and I really struggled with the fact that I’d even been a victim of domestic violence at first.”
Evans’ partner was arrested and charged but killed himself before the case could come to court, so she “never got any closure”.
Evans is one of five survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault that the WEP is fielding to stand against male MPs who have been accused of violence or harassment.
Lewis has denied making non-consensual sexual advances after one woman alleged that he touched her leg and invited her to his house during a Labour party event in 2010, when she was 19. In 2007, he apologised after sending suggestive texts to a young civil servant.
Evans acknowledges that some may not see what happened to her on the same scale as some of the allegations against the MPs, but insists that “abuse is wrong in any shape or form”.
The campaigner, from Hetton-le-Hole near Sunderland, said she hoped Labour would “accept my hand” and adopt the party’s policies “so we can work together to get rid of abuse and harassment”.
The WEP wants to amend the Recall Act to extend the conditions where an incumbent can face a recall petition and possible byelection to include MPs who are found guilty of sexual harassment or violence by parliament’s independent investigation process.
The WEP is also standing candidates in the constituencies of Cities of London and Westminster, Luton North, Dover and Sheffield Hallam. Since the announcement of the campaign, Mark Field, the Conservative MP for Cities of London and Westminster, has announced that he will not be seeking re-election. He was filmed grabbing a female environmental activist by the neck.
Mandu Reid, the leader of the WEP, said the “mainstream parties have all been too slow and half-hearted” to respond to the so-called Pestminster scandal. She said: “Violence is not inevitable, but we cannot hope to tackle it while MPs who abuse their power can continue to do so unchecked. As long as our parliament sends the message that harassment and assault don’t matter, we cannot hope to create a more equal future or one that is free from violence.”