LabourToo calls for change to complaints process following submission of report into sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination in the Labour Party
28th February 2018
As MPs prepare to debate Andrea Leadsom’s report today, 28 February, into the future complaints process for Parliament, LabourToo, the campaign set up by Labour women who want to see a change in the Labour Party sexual harassment complaints process, has today submitted its report, #LabourToo: Women’s experiences of sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination in the Labour Party, to senior figures in the Labour Party including Leader Jeremy Corbyn and General Secretary Iain McNicol.
The report, compiled from stories submitted via the LabourToo website over a two-month period inspired by the #MeToo campaign, provides an insight into the experiences of sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination faced by women in the Labour Party.
The 43 anonymised stories cover women who are party staff, activists, and politicians and candidates, both at a national and at a local level.
The report identifies six common themes: problem individuals are “common knowledge”, yet no action is taken against them; there is low or no confidence in the party’s formal complaint or disciplinary processes; women felt there was little support for those making complaints and in some cases were actively dissuaded from pursuing complaints; a lack of guidance and safeguards in place for members who may find themselves in “risky situations” such as alone with strangers in their cars; a poor understanding of what constitutes harassment including a range of sexist attitudes recently expressed by Labour men; and the routine abuse of women by senior people in positions of trust.
These stories do not come from one part of the Labour Party, nor from one region of the country. Sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination is not restricted to the corridors of Westminster, but is taking place at all levels within the Labour Party, and throughout the country.
It is hoped that the submission of this report to the Labour Party will demonstrate the behaviour that is being seen throughout the party, and will lead the Labour Party to changing its processes for dealing with complaints.
The LabourToo report makes a number of specific calls to action for the Labour Party:
1) Labour must introduce a fully independent complaints process, including panels made up of people who have no clear link to the Party and who will act to uphold the integrity of the process, rather than to protect individuals concerned, or the party itself.
2) Compulsory training for all party staff, elected Labour representatives and key elected officials in local Constituency Labour Parties.
3) A comprehensive set of policies covering bullying and harassment, sexual harassment, domestic abuse, abuse, assault and sexual assault, including clear protections against victimisation for those reporting incidents, in line with the Equality Act.
4) A confidentiality policy which requires members not to share confidential information they become aware of as part of the complaints process.
5) Mandatory DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) checks for those seeking selection as candidates, both at a national and a local level.
Commenting on the report, LabourToo said:
“Despite being prepared for it, we have found it genuinely distressing to read about this level of inexcusable behaviour taking place within the Labour Party.
“Sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination is not restricted to the corridors of Westminster, but is taking place at all levels within the Labour Party.
“We want to ensure that women who have been victims of sexual harassment, abuse, assault and discrimination have confidence in reporting their experiences and can do so in the knowledge that everything will be done to ensure perpetrators are held to account. We need a system that is not open to political bias or interference from the friends and allies of the usually more powerful men whose behaviour causes the problem in the first place.
“While we welcome the Rape Crisis support introduced for women by the party, the complaints system needs to be truly independent before women will have faith in its integrity.”
Key extracts from the report by theme
1). A common knowledge of problem individuals, which points to either a widespread failure to take harassment, abuse and discrimination serious, or a lack of engagement with formal procedures even where these are clearly established.
“…there was a councillor who was very well-known to senior figures in the local Labour Party for being a serial groper of women…if I was running the board at a canvassing session he would come up behind me and put a hand on my hips or round my waist when feeding back the data, and would always want to put ‘vote Labour’ stickers on women in a way that meant he could touch their breasts.”
“I started working as a parliamentary researcher and went to a party where one of the elderly councillors stood behind me at the bar and put his arms around me to the bar trapping me in, rubbing his groin against my back. I mentioned it to people and was met with ‘well that’s just who he is.”
2.) Low confidence in formal processes, and too many people who believe that they have been subject to unacceptable harassment, abuse or discrimination are nevertheless unwilling to put their trust in Labour Party complaint or disciplinary procedures.
“As an intern, I was sexually harassed by a married male MP at a Labour Christmas party. He got drunk and I remember he was very red in the face and started coming up behind me and stroking my arm. I felt really uncomfortable and not able to report it to the Labour Party because the people I had to tell would have known him and wanted to protect him.”
“A committee member on [x] was accused of rape/sexual assault by two members…He was asked to resign from his position quietly…He got away with his reputation intact…It was dealt with completely unacceptable by the party and essentially covered up because of fears of how it would look to the outside world/media and damage our reputation.”
3). No support in accessing formal processes, and even when there is, often individuals were not given any support in understanding their options for reporting incidents.
“At a party event a male, middle aged CLP officer…made lewd, inappropriate sexual comments to me in front of a number of other male party members…I reported to my CLP chair. He was understanding but told me that the officer in question didn’t mean anything by it and brushed it off.”
“I was raped at [Party Conference], a man was harassing me and wouldn’t leave me alone…I am no longer a member of the party and this at least in part played a role. I told my region and an MP I trusted. No-one cared.”
4). No safeguards or guidance on risky situations, for example, a number of incidents took place in cars, on the way to or from campaigning events, or in hotels. These are situations that are unlikely to occur in the course of other types of work or volunteering, and the party should do more to protect members.
“I went to my first CLP fundraiser on my own. The MP there spent the night stroking my leg under the table…at the end of the night I was getting a life home and he got in the car, when we got back to his house he was insistent on me coming in his house.”
“A senior party official was very drunk at a Party Conference…I got him to his hotel and he said he couldn’t remember his room number…we got to the third floor and found his room after trial and error…He pushed me down onto the bed and started to kiss and grope me…I told him no and to stop but he ignored it.”
5). A poor understanding of what constitutes harassment and discrimination. Too many of the stories in the report display a variety of sexist attitudes from Labour men, and whilst we would like to think it is not necessary to explain why these comments have no play in the Labour Party – the evidence suggests otherwise.
“Last year I made it clear to my CLP that I wanted to attend National Conference. However, I felt it was very difficult to attend with a child in my care…When I requested to attend [the next year], I was told by a male CLP officer that I couldn’t go because last year I couldn’t due to my child.”
“A couple of years ago I was able to start going to branch meetings…I was told in front of the whole meeting when being asked at the AGM if I would take an officer position that it “is nice to have something nice to look at”.”
6). An imbalance of power and the abuses by senior people in positions of trust. There is a clear power imbalance when there is an age difference, and in other cases, there is specific reference to the fact that the perpetrator had a position of seniority.
“I campaigned regularly in a particular CLP…it was a typical, old-fashioned CLP with an entirely male executive and a mostly older male active membership. I was prepared to not be taken seriously because of being a young woman; an expectation that was immediately borne out.”
“At a national party event, myself and another woman had to bodily put ourselves between an MP and a very drunk teenager he was trying to take advantage of. It was disgusting.”
Notes to editors
About the report
The final report, #LabourToo: Women’s experiences of sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination in the Labour Party, was prepared for Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party, Iain McNichol, General Secretary of the Labour Party, Sophie Goodyear, Head of Complaints, Karon Monaghan QC, Lead on Independent Review of Labour Party Complaints Process, and the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party.
The paper is the result of an online survey which ran from mid-October to mid-December 2017 on the website https://labourtoo.org.uk which offered the chance to report harassment, abuse and discrimination in the Labour Party – anonymously – for the purposes of highlighting and improving the party’s response to complaints.
LabourToo was born when a group of Labour women met to discuss their own experiences of issues relating to harassment, abuse and assault in October 2017. The women involved have been members of the Labour Party for a long time, and want to see the party do better. They are anonymous because they have had to take steps to protect themselves and those close to them. LabourToo is not about naming and shaming individuals, nor is it about undermining the party, but it is about enacting positive change that will benefit all members.
LabourToo issues open letter to Jeremy Corbyn, calling for an independent complaints process for sexual harassment and abuse cases
20th November 2017
Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP
Leader of the Labour Party
House of Commons
Dear Jeremy and NEC members,
As a result of our own experiences, and those of women in our party, we set up the #LabourToo
campaign for women in the Labour Party to share, anonymously and confidentially, their
experiences of harassment, assault and abuse by others in the Party. The moment generated
by the recent revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s abusive behavior and subsequent outpouring of
women’s recognition of that experience led us to reflect on whether the Labour Party also has a
responsibility to prevent sexual harassment and abuse taking place and to protect women who
do experience it.
We are collating the stories we receive and will be presenting a report to the Labour Party in
December which we hope will shed a light on the extent to which women experience
harassment and abuse at all levels within the Labour Party. We aren’t in this to name and
shame; but to try and encourage the Labour Party to take these issues more seriously. We will
edit or exclude any accounts we receive which might identify either victims or perpetrators, and
present those we do include as anonymous case studies designed to demonstrate the range
and extent of the problem.
We welcome the ongoing discussions in Parliament about the ways in which to support staff
who wish to make a complaint. However, we believe that these issues are a wider problem
within the Party – sexual harassment does not begin and end in Westminster, but exists at all
levels, from members, to elected volunteers, Councillors and Parliamentarians.
We are glad that the Party has published a new sexual harassment policy, and announced the
support of independent specialists to work alongside those wanting to make a complaint.
However, we believe that the reform needs to go further.
We think there are a few simple steps the Labour Party could take to better support victims of
domestic and sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination to come forward as well as to make
a real shift in the culture of the Party:
1. A complaints process which is fully independent from the Party, with third party
reporting and independent, expert advisers to assist internal party panels of NEC or
NCC members when making determinations in all complaints
2. Safeguarding training for all party staff, elected officials and those holding voluntary
positions within the party both locally and nationally, which includes a clear set of
guidelines about appropriate behaviour, alongside training for party members to be
good bystanders who know how to challenge inappropriate behaviour and support
victims if they come forward.
3. A comprehensive set of policies on bullying and harassment, sexual harassment,
domestic abuse, abuse, assault and sexual assault – including clear protections
against victimisation for those reporting incidents, in line with the Equality Act.
4. A new section in the Rule Book requiring members not to share confidential
information they become aware of as part of a complaints process – with penalties for
breach of these rules.
The Labour Party is the Party of championing women’s rights, and we hope that under your
Leadership, we can once again lead the way in ensuring that those within our Party are able to
have the confidence to report any instance of abuse, assault or harassment without prejudice.
The LabourToo Team