LONDON—Two women came forward Tuesday night to say they have been the victims of sex attacks by men working in British politics.
Both said they had reported the assaults to officials within their parties but nothing had been done. They are now determined to expose the culture of coverups within Westminster, just as a dossier is circulating of alleged sexual improprieties by British MPs.
Bex Bailey, 25, a former member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, said she was raped by someone within the party at an official event. When she took her horror story to a senior Labour Party official, she was told to hush up her ordeal. “It was suggested to me that I not report it. I was told that if I did it might damage me,” she told the BBC.
A second woman, who works for a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons, said she was sexually assaulted in a hotel room by an MP during an official delegation abroad. The woman, who has chosen not to be named, said she was pulled onto a hotel bed and held down before she managed to escape from the attacker.
“Initially I was just really shocked and I didn’t expect it, but I was quite quickly scared because I knew I was in a vulnerable situation,” she told The Guardian.
When she returned to London, the staffer enlisted the help of a senior colleague and together they went to the authorities. The police said there was nothing they could do as the alleged attack had taken place outside Britain; the parliamentary commissioner for standards told her it was outside their remit; she tried to set up a meeting with House of Commons officials, but they kept canceling. “I was so shocked that they basically didn’t want to know. I felt so alone: How could they not care?” she said.
She also approached the party but again no apparent action was taken that might protect future victims or bring the attacker to justice. “We also notified the party. But they did nothing,” she said. “We don’t know whether they had a word with the MP involved or turned a blind eye or what.”
These women initially decided against going public with their experiences but both have come forward after the torrent of allegations in multiple professions followed the horrific allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
As other industries began to consider shining a light on their own “open secrets,” an unverified spreadsheet of Conservative MPs began to circulate in Westminster.
The British media reported on the existence of a “sex pest dossier” with 36 MPs on it, but the document, which also included the names of alleged victims, was a confused list that also included male and female MPs who were in consensual relationships with other politicians and political operatives.
The spreadsheet also contains serious allegations of groping, inappropriate behavior with junior staffers, and, in one case, the alleged existence of a nondisclosure agreement between one prominent MP and a younger staffer.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was among the Twitter users to link to the list of MPs without any corroborating evidence to back up the claims. Under Britain’s notoriously tight libel laws, those over-sharers could face legal action.
In 2013, the wife of the speaker of the House of Commons, Sally Bercow, was forced to settle for more than $200,000 after Twitter vigilantes falsely accused a Tory member of the House of Lords of being a pedophile. She had not linked directly to any of the false claims, writing only: “Why is Lord McAlpine trending. *innocent face*."
On Monday, the leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, announced that there would be additional support for people making complaints and said officials acting inappropriately would be fired and the whip would be withdrawn from MPs.
The political staffer who said she was attacked in a hotel room said these changes were insufficient. “Some of the people who knew what happened to me are now being tasked with fixing this broken system and those are the very people who in my opinion at best turned a blind eye and at worst actively covered it up,” she said. “To put the responsibility on senior politicians to fix this is inadequate and not going to work. It’s inappropriate and I have very little faith or trust that they are suddenly going to have the victims’ interests at heart. It is all about self-protection.”
Bex Bailey also said the proposals did not go nearly far enough. “It’s important that we need to make sure that this results in actual change in our parties as well as in Parliament, rather than letting it all blow over,” she said.
Bailey said she had seen “a lot of brave women” speak out since the Weinstein revelations and wanted to ensure that there would be a culture shift within Westminster. “I just really hope that all the horrible things that we’re seeing will at least result in some sort of change in our parties as well as in Parliament,” she said.