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On 1st November, it was announced that Michael Fallon had resigned from his post as Defence Secretary of State, admitting his behaviour had fallen short of the standards expected of the UK Military, and consequently it would not be right for him to continue in this position. Since this announcement however, the overspill of sexual harassment claims within parliament has continued, begging the question what our government can do to overcome these frankly shocking revelations.

his behaviour had fallen short of the standards expected of the UK Military,

Fallon’s  resignation has made him the first politician to quit after sexual harassment claims against him revealed that he made unwanted advances to the journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer. One result has been Theresa May resolving that future claims must be taken to the police, in order to be dealt with with the utmost severity. She has also promised a new “independent” process take place, in order to handle complaints in a clear and fair manner. However, parliament’s continuing response to those coming forward with their experiences of sexual harassment is critical, as it hugely affects whether others will then feel confident in making accusations in the future.  This in turn influences how the rest of the country will view sexual harassment claims in general, due to its role as the country’s supposedly trustworthy governing body.

Image: The Independent.

The scale of these reports has now reached such a height that The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has now said that “The sexual harassment scandal in British politics has the potential to be as serious as the 2009 expenses scandal.”  Currently, two other ministers have denied claims of harassment, whilst a further 40 Conservative MPs are listed, with allegations against them that are yet to be proved. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has announced he will gladly meet the Prime Minister to discuss how parliament should now react, with SNP’s Ian Blackford also affirming his party will work with the government “to ensure that we have a system we can be proud of.”  Even May’s deputy, Damian Green, has been shutting down allegations about his inappropriate behaviour towards a Tory female activist, showing these accusations have been rising up all the ranks of parliament.

The sexual harassment scandal in British politics has the potential to be as serious as the 2009 expenses scandal

However, it is not just the Conservative MPs that are under fire; there have also been reports that an activist was discouraged by a party official from reporting an alleged rape at a Labour party event in 2011, which has only recently come to light. Allegations of harassment towards staff from MPs at a notorious parliament bar, The Sports and Social, have also now emerged, and whilst in the past Parliament appear to have turned a blind eye to such claims, they are finally having to demonstrate that they are taking them seriously. Most recently, Labour’s Kerry McCarthy has reported she was sent letters by MP Kelvin Hopkins for 20 years, resulting in Hopkins currently being suspended from the party and under investigation, despite his claims of innocence.

if falsely made they can have a devastating impact on the alleged perpetrator’s future

The flipside to this, is that whilst it is vital for people to feel totally comfortable when coming forward with sexual harassment allegations, if falsely made they can have a devastating impact on the alleged perpetrator’s future, with the possibility of them losing their job, friends, family and causing severe emotional damage. It was announced on 7th November that Assembly Government minister for Wales, Carl Sargeant, is believed to have killed himself four days after being suspended from the Labour Party, and removed from his role as cabinet secretary for communities and children. This result was due to claims of “unwanted attention, inappropriate touching or groping,” and it is being argued by many that these claims were not dealt with in the best manner, with Sergeant not being informed in detail with what he was being accused of. However, despite this being important to remember, many of the harassment claims do sadly continue to reveal themselves as true, with the MPs in question clearly hoping they could have got away with previous offences committed, due to it being in the past and therefore easier to excuse it as culturally acceptable at the time.

it is not that sexual harassment has ever been okay, but rather that the structures within society used to make it appear more acceptable

Of course, it is not that sexual harassment has ever been okay, but rather that the structures within society used to make it appear more acceptable. Therefore, as we look to the future it is important that society, with parliament in particular, does what it can to send out a clear message that any harassment which used to be justified as ‘normal practice’ is no longer acceptable in any sense whatsoever.  Only then will people not be afraid to speak up, if the right support networks are in place, which our Prime Minister must provide without delay.

having been sexually harassed should not be something to be embarrassedabout, but rather it can reinforce the strength of humanity to overcome these horrific experiences

These sexual harassment claims arrived after multiple scandals in Hollywood were revealed on the same topic; in particular surrounding Harvey Weinstein. Therefore, although these revelations were horrific, they were also a catalyst that encouraged others to speak up too, and thus prove that having been sexually harassed or taken advantage of should not be something to be embarrassed or ashamed about, but rather it can reinforce the strength of humanity to overcome these horrific experiences. Whilst it is not just women who have been harassed, they make up the vast majority of those affected, and therefore it is particularly important in future that male MPs play their part in standing by their female colleagues. More than anything, these harassment claims have shown a true sense of unity; once one person comes forward others are less afraid to do so.

Therefore, looking to the future in parliament, MPs should not feel they have to hide any crimes committed against them, but rather should feel supported by their colleagues, and by the ability to talk to the police, or an independent council impartial to parliament, they can be setting a good example to the whole of society.

 

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