Diane Abbott: ‘I Get Rape And Death Threats Every Day’

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott on how Westminster feels like a school playground right now, and why young people need better sex education

Diane Abbott

by As told to Anna Silverman |

We’ve got to make changes to how rape complaints are treated. I was so shocked when a form was introduced asking rape complainants to hand over their phone to police or risk having their cases dropped. There’s been a worrying drop in the number of rape cases that lead to a charge, so this is really dangerous. It risks frightening victims away from reporting rapes even more. Women – because it is usually women – have said it feels like a digital strip search.

Everything they find in that phone, other than messages between the complainant and the accused, is irrelevant. Whatever else is there will be used to smear that woman’s character. It’s the same as assuming a woman was raped because she was wearing a short skirt or there’s proof she flirted with someone.

We need to review the use of these forms, narrow their focus and be clearer on how long this material is kept. I’ve heard phone data is kept for seven years – that’s ridiculous. I’ve raised this with ministers and Labour is campaigning on it. Generally, women are more vulnerable to gender-based violence than ever before now, because of online stalking and sexual harassment.

To counter the effects of young people having access to so much online, we also need better sex education in schools. Guys ask girls for nude pictures then send them all over the place; they learn about sex by watching hard-core porn. When I speak to organisations like Brook sexual health clinics, they say most young people don’t understand the notion of consent. Meanwhile, Westminster feels a bit like a school playground at the moment. You can’t turn a corner without seeing a plotting huddle of Tory MPs. The last time I remember it like this was when the Tories were plotting to get rid of Thatcher – I was an MP then and it was the same excitable hysteria. The fact Donald Trump is backing Boris to be the next Tory leader says everything about Johnson. The level of vitriol thrown at women in Westminster is something that’s really concerning these days.

Trolls say things online – particularly to black, female MPs – they’d never say to your face. We need to look at the question of anonymity on social media and in the comment sections of websites. Everyone should post under pseudonyms, but whoever manages the site should have your real name and details. I get rape and death threats every day and we can never track the people down. I used to go everywhere on my own; now my staff make an effort to accompany me to places where I didn’t require a chaperone before.

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CREDIT: Twitter Danielle Rowley

Speaking about her groundbreaking announcement, Danielle perfectly highlighted just how ridiculous it is that it's even a taboo to mention your period. She said on Twitter:'A lot of unexpected coverage of me talking about my period - which is great, but also highlights the need to talk about periods more openly.A woman mentioning her period shouldn't be such huge news - let's use this opportunity and work together to get to a place where it's not!'

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Jess brought social media trolls to account when she called for those who post abusive messages online to lose their anonymity. The MP told parliament that she once received 600 rape threats in one night and is threatened with violence and aggression every single day online. The online community is so hostile towards women that Amnesty International have led a campaign calling for Twitter to take greater responsibility for preventing online abuse. Jess told the House of Commons that people should have to disclose their real identity to social media platforms, with hope that it would not only deter people from abusing women online but also enable us to hold them to account.

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Heidi, alongside Jess Phillips, shared an emotional account of her own abortion with parliament earlier this month. In an attempt to reform Northern Ireland's abortion laws, she told the Cambridge independent that she felt she needed to share her story:'I had intended to say it because I had a feeling nobody else would.'I thought it probably needed saying.'I suppose it is very easy to make issues like that just about procedure and legislation and words and policy but, actually, it is about people's lives.'Jess Phillips too opened up about her own abortion, also sharing harrowing stories from women in Northern Ireland who had terminated pregnancies.

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The original lead of cross-party calls for Northern Ireland's abortion laws to be brought in line with the rest of the UK's, Stella received tons of hate mail over her campaign to protect women's right to choose. It was in her call for debate over abortion that Heidi Allen and Jess Philips were able to talk about their own terminations.

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CREDIT: Facebook Penny Mourdant

The Minister for Women and Equalities, Penny Mourdant launched the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security which calls for more women to be at the centre of the DFID's peace, security and humanitarian programmes. As secretary of state for international development, she has attempted to reform the aid sector by creating an independent safeguarding unit that prevents exploitation. This comes in the wake of a series of sex scandals against leading charities earlier this year.

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Wera Hobhouse brought Gina Martin's upskirting campaign to parliament as a private members bill set to outlaw the vile crime. While the bill was subsequently blocked by two male MPs, a third reading of the bill is set to continue on the 6th of July with Gina stating 'the Government Bill will become law as it'll get through the later stages more quickly and won't be objected to.'

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It was off the back of the upskirting bill that Maria Miller and Jess Phillips have met with Wera Hobhouse in an attempt to include a revenge porn amendment. It would ensure there was a blanket ban on voyeuristic images regardless of the intention in taking it, as the MPs feared people would attempt to bend the wording of the upskirting law to avoid conviction by arguing they took the image with no intention of causing distress. They also wanted to introduce an amendment that would ban false pornographic images, in which faces are photoshopped onto explicit images. However, they were told it was impossible to introduce further amendments. This comes after Love Island stars Zara McDermott and Laura Anderson became victims of revenge porn this week.

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As part of the discussion about classing misogyny as a hate crime, Mhairi Black spoke out about the misogynistic and homophobic abuse she receives online every day. She also asked parliament to reflect on their own environment, stating, 'Only a few weeks ago I was physically pressed up against a Member (of Parliament) in the voting lobby who is accused of sexual misconduct because there's so little room.'Acknowledging she has the 'same right and influence as any other elected man', she spoke up for the female staff who aren't in her position.

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Leading the charge to make misogyny a hate crime, Melanie highlighted the 'link between low-level harassment of women and more serious sexual assaults' that was found by Westminster's all-party group on domestic violence. In her constituency, the rate of domestic violence is particularly high. As a result, she has called for a law change to have misogynistic acts such as wolf-whistling, leering and sexual comments in public to be made a criminal offence.

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Monica introduced a Member's Bill into Scottish parliament that would see the creation of free universal access to sanitary products. Proposing also that schools, colleges and universities provide free sanitary products in their toilets, she led the campaign that stands to end period poverty in Scotland.

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