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Westminster Sexual Harassment Scandal Continues

Westminster has been rocked by numerous revelations of sexual misconduct over the past few weeks. 

The scandal first came to light with reports of a WhatsApp group set up by junior Whitehall staff. Aides, researchers, and secretaries used the group to warn one another about MPs who had a history of sexual harassment. 

An unredacted document (said to be compiled by the WhatsApp group members) was then leaked by political blog site Guido Fawkes. It detailed the misbehavior of 36 Conservative MPs, including incidences of inappropriate comments and advances.

Since the leak, a number of more formal complaints have been brought forward.

The harassment claims cross party lines, with MPs and senior staff from both Labour and Conservative (the two biggest players in British politics) being implicated.

Former Defence Secretary Michael Fallon stepped down from his post after it was revealed that he had continually put his hand on the knee of journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer during a dinner in 2002. Despite Hartley-Brewer commenting that she was not “remotely distressed” by the incident, it was this, among other allegations, that forced Fallon out of Westminster.

Upon leaving, Fallon stated that "many of these have been false but I accept that in the past I have fallen below the high standards that we require of the Armed Forces that I have the honour to represent.”

Michael Fallon. Credit:  Chatham House, London / WikiCommons

Michael Fallon. Credit: Chatham House, London / WikiCommons

Many other prominent figures have also been involved in the scandal. International Trade Minister Mark Garnier, who admitted to calling his secretary “sugar tits” and asking her to buy him sex toys, faces an investigation from the Cabinet Office.

First Secretary of State Damian Green is also under investigation due to complaints of sexual harassment from writer Kate Maltby. In addition, after a raid on Green’s Westminster office, it is alleged that pornography was found on his governmental computer. Green denies any wrongdoing.

Damian Green. Credit:  Chris McAndrew / WikiCommons

Damian Green. Credit: Chris McAndrew / WikiCommons

One of the most serious allegations was from Labour activist Bex Bailey, who told Radio 4’s PM program that she was raped at an event held by the party.

“...It wasn’t an MP – but someone who was more senior to me. It took me a while to summon up the courage to tell anyone in the party, but when I was suggested to me that I not report it...I was told that if I did it might damage me,” Bailey explained.

Labour has now launched an investigation into the incident.

In response to the unfolding events, both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have encouraged victims to report any sexual misconduct to the appropriate authorities. The Prime Minister also called for an overhaul of Westminster’s "toothless" disciplinary procedures.

On October 30th, Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, “outlined plans to strengthen the existing helpline provision with a support team along with the establishment of a mediation service, a code of conduct and a grievance procedure.”

The events have sparked outrage from the British public, with many arguing that the culture of sexual harassment is still not taken seriously enough. In addition to making headlines in news shows, the issue is being discussed in the entertainment sphere. In a clip that went viral, female comedian Jo Brand can be seen rebuking the idea that certain allegations were not “high-level” enough

While acting as host on the popular show Have I Got News For You, Brand interrupted a conversation between the four male panelists: “If I can just say – as the only representative of the female gender here today – I know it’s not high-level, but it doesn’t have to be high-level for women to feel under siege in somewhere like the House of Commons.”

“Actually, women, if you’re constantly being harassed, even in a small way, that builds up and that wears you down."