U.K.'s May Urges Political Harassment Victims to Come Forward

  • The Sun: attackers are named in victims’ WhatsApp Group
  • Newspaper claims Cabinet ministers and aides among names

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May urged political employees who’d suffered sexual harassment to come forward after a newspaper article said that women working in Parliament had set up a WhatsApp group to discuss their experiences at the hands of male politicians.

The Sun alleged on Friday that the names circulating in the group included current Cabinet ministers as well as more junior members of Parliament and government aides. The report comes in the wake of the scandal that engulfed Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

“Any reports of sexual harassment are deeply concerning,” May’s spokeswoman Alison Donnelly told reporters in London. “Anyone working for an MP in a party can approach the party, and if it’s a serious allegation they should go to the police.” She said such behavior was “unacceptable in any walk of life, including politics.”

Britain’s political parties have been wrestling with the question of how to respond to allegations of harassment for some years. The problem is complicated because each member of Parliament runs their own office like a small business, hiring their own staff. That means it can be difficult for people to know where they can report unwelcome behavior. And there are few sanctions that can be used against a lawmaker.

In 2014, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, Nigel Evans, was cleared of rape and sexual assault. He criticized his fellow Conservative lawmaker, Sarah Wollaston, for encouraging the two men who made the original claims to go to the police. 

The same year the Liberal Democrats came under fire for their handling of allegations of harassment against a senior lawmaker, Chris Rennard. He denied inappropriate behavior, but apologized if he had inadvertently made “women feel uncomfortable”. Women in the Labour Party this month launched “LabourToo,” an online project to collect stories of abuse within the party.

“There has to be a proper system of people being able to report if they’ve been abused,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told LBC radio station on Friday.

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