A Westminster crisis made in Hollywood

Julia Hartley-Brewer reported that former Defence Secretary placed his hands on her knees several times during a Conservative Part conference meal and threatened to punch him in the face if it continued. It worked

 

The saying that ‘When America coughs, Britain catches a cold’ has never been more apt. This week, senior political figures in Westminster have either been suspended by their political parties, stood down from positions of high authority due to alleged improper conduct of lewd or sexual nature or currently fending off such allegations. Some of these incidents happened many years ago and are disputed but for any victim of harassment of any kind to feel a need to keep quiet for this long is just painful and awful.

Clearly, some do not see themselves as victims, as in the case of the popular journalist, Julia Hartley-Brewer, who tweeted “Both my knees are still intact. Get a grip, people” (see picture above). She thought it “absurd”, IF it turned out that the then defence secretary had resigned because of this historic episode. Likewise, there was a very interesting discussion on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning where two female guests (on opposite sides of the topic) were discussing the fine line between flirtatious behaviour and sexual harassment. One of the guests, Petronella Wyatt said when she was a younger professional, men made flirtatious remarks at her and were a bit “gropey”, which she found quite flattering, the compliments made her feel good.

To however equate a flirtatious text with a horrible thing like rape was wrong – according to her. Of course, her fellow guest on the show and leader of the Women’s Equality Party, Sophie Walker was totally of the view that all of these types of behaviour were just as bad and demeaning of women. Additionally, women who were in a place of power could well find it all flattering but not the majority of women who cannot threaten to punch their boss in the face etc.

Suffice to say it was a lively discussion.

 

However, and aside from the wider public discussion now being played out on news headlines in the UK today, I am much less concerned about people who might struggle to change habits that were ‘acceptable’ centuries or even a millennia ago. Rather, I am much more worried about the likes of Bex Bailey, the young Labour Party activist who reported a case of rape a few years ago to her party but was effectively cautioned against doing so. Whilst a vast majority of cases that have thus far emerged have not been on this scale, it is however worrying that victims of sexual harassment and assault feel they must keep quiet until some external factor gives them sufficient cloak of protection or safety before discussing it. In this case, it was something that started brewing across the Atlantic, which has provided the safety and ok – to come forward.

I know people who have been victims of sexual violence all of whom have been scarred for life in one way shape or form. A few years ago, I organised a campaign to raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual harassment and was overwhelmed by some of the real life accounts of women (and a fewer number of men) whose lives had turned into a living nightmare because of what they had experienced at home and at work. It has been sad to hear some commentators ask ‘why are all these women coming forward now?’ The sad thing is that some people asked the same thing about those who came forward about being sexually abused as children by priests, Jimmy Saville, sports coaches etc not too long ago. It’s almost as though a statute of limitation ought to be in place for all forms of redress.

How can we begin to make society a better place, if we simply decide to abandon history and not deal with its sometimes sour moments? It has been quite insightful to hear the debate surrounding interpersonal relationships and the boundaries thereof recently. My concluding thoughts are these – fundamentally, in a civilised society, treating each other as human beings, not objects is a healthy thing and waiting for a crisis to start in Hollywood before we start giving it the right level of attention is a bit sick really.

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