In America a dam has broken. Following the Harvey Weinstein revelations, more and more brave men and women have come forward to tell of the sexual harassment and assault they have faced. Yet here in Britain it is a very different story; months on from the initial burst of allegations many of those accused appear to be simply waiting for the storm to pass. Despite the wealth of allegations in politics, only Michael Fallon and Damian Green have faced any form of disciplinary action – and the accused continue on as MPs.
It all seemed so different in October. Sitting in an unassuming office, a group of women who have given their life to the Labour Party met to discuss how to demonstrate the extent of sexual harassment and abuse going on within the Party. As a result, #LabourToo was born.
Little did we know how big the story would become, but we were determined to tackle the culture of harassment and abuse that we know exists in politics.
We wanted to find out if our intuition was right, that this is going on at all levels of politics, from Westminster to local government, to our grassroots movement. That’s why we set up an anonymous and confidential campaign to give everyone the opportunity to tell us their stories of sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination.
For too long those in authority have turned a blind eye to these issues because those accused are political allies or they are worried more about the impact of investigations on the reputation of our party than the victims themselves.
And that is also why we have to be anonymous – because politics is a brutal place and we didn’t want our identities to be used against us or those close to us.
We are sad to say that our intuition has been proved right. We have seen submissions from all levels of politics, and about all types of harassment, discrimination and abuse. Our goal has not been to name and shame individuals, but instead, like many survivors, we simply want to change the system so that women coming forward in the future feel that they will be supported and believed, and we hope, find justice.
We know this is a hard task but we've taken heart from the steps the Labour Party said they would take since we first launched, from training complaints staff to appointing Independent Sexual Violence Advisors to support survivors coming forward. But as yet our call for independent oversight or better still, an independent complaints process entirely goes unanswered.
Independence matters because too often in politics it’s who, not what you know. Making a complaint about someone who could affect your future career, or having to ask help from someone who is a political ally of the perpetrator has left many too frightened to act.
That's why Jeremy Corbyn's interview with Grazia caught our eye. He stated Labour had introduced a "confidential hotline" with an "independent person to investigate" the most serious of cases. But our excitement quickly turned to disbelief as we realised that confident assertion didn’t hold water. Three months on from raising concerns about how our party deals with harassment, the "hotline" (which is Labour’s compliance unit) is still answered by Labour Party staff – meaning that the process is being managed from within the party machinery – and there is no independent investigative process. There has been one independent lawyer appointed to investigate how the party itself dealt with one allegation of rape – but there have been plenty of other serious allegations, including unwanted touching, abuse of power and sexual assault which have all been investigated by party staff and members with no independent oversight.
You'd think of all places the Labour Party, built as it is on the twin ambitions of equality and social justice, might be a safe haven. But as the saying goes, power corrupts, and if that's mixed in with the misogyny which runs through society, you've got something terribly toxic.
The difference between how British politicians have reacted to these issues and America sends a strong message to victims that the powerful will always try protect their own. Currently those accused in parliament of behaviour that in any other workplace would be grounds for dismissal or suspension act as if nothing has happened - speaking in debates, denouncing those who have come forward and, we fear, hoping a few weeks out of the limelight will mean they can then return to business as usual.
We never thought that #MeToo would transform women's equality overnight but we did expect to see more concrete action. Women in politics, left unprotected by usual workplace policies, need a truly independent complaints process, which is free from the potential of mates calling mates. Victims need to be believed from the start, given specialist support, and the people determining the case need to be independent of the Party. And those found guilty of this behaviour need to be removed from public office so that no constituent has to face them.
Even though we are disappointed with the slow pace of change in the UK we won’t give up. In the New Year we will be publishing our findings and recommendations based on the submissions that have been made to us over the past 3 months.
Our calls to action do not change. We want the leadership to live up to what they told Grazia last week. The message from #LabourToo to Jeremy is clear – make your words a reality. Don’t let perpetrators hide behind patronage. Protect our party from sexual predators.