Women Liberal Democrats and sexual harrassment allegations

miranda-whiteheadWe have received this statement from the Chair of Women Liberal Democrats, Miranda Whitehead, which has been sent to all their members. In view of its subject matter we have decided to reproduce it in full.

Women Liberal Democrats ( WLD)  are very concerned  by the sexual harassment allegations involving the party .

Of equally serious concern is the implication that the party did not deal appropriately with these complaints when they were first raised and failed to offer support.

We are also aware that it appears WLD was not seen as a place to turn for people with concerns. As some of these allegations are historical we are having to look back through our records, to be certain that these issues weren’t raised to the SAO, but whatever the case that is a failure on the part of WLD, and for that I am personally very sorry.

We have seen and heard the testimonies of the women who have decided to speak publicly, and we want to ensure that the investigation is full and transparent.

We welcome the independent review the party has set up on their handling of the allegations, and the QC led formal investigation under the disciplinary rules.

Now WLD awaits information on how the women of the party will be involved in these.

WLD has written to Nick Clegg to ask for

  • a process and timescale for involving the women’s organisations  in the Lib Dem review of how allegations were handled in the past, and how any allegations of this type will be handled in future
  • assurance that the ongoing investigations are fair and transparent (including ensuring that those involved are being offered appropriate support and privacy)
  • commitment to a wider review of the experiences and role of women in the party, with recommendations to be brought to Conference no later than Spring 2014

The debate over the allegations has rapidly broadened into a wider debate on the treatment, and mistreatment, of women in public life and the workplace by many institutions, the press included; and we hope that in the thorough debate that follows the result will be a party and a society that functions better for us all.

These are very difficult matters to raise, and the people who come forward deserve our support. We welcome that the party has involved the Police, and Public Concern at Work and hope that everyone who wants to speak about their experiences will feel able to come forward.

If you wish to contact the Police:  0208 721 4601. You will speak first  to a clerk and be referred on to a specialist advisor

If you wish to contact Public Concern at Work: 0207 404 6609 and [email protected]

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17 Comments

  • I met my wife at work; the first time I asked her out she said no, but the next time she said yes – persistence pays. Now we have been married for six years and have two wonderful children. As the allegations against Rennard have not been made public (particularly the bit between his initial approach and a complaint being received by Jo Swinson), it is hard to know if he is even accused of doing anything that most people would consider wrong – for example is he accused of saying something about misuing his power to help or hinder anyone? If the only difference between what he did and what I did, is that I got a ‘yes’ the second time whereas he got another ‘no’, then I think this is a bit of a non-story. Or are same-firm relationships such as mine a priori immoral among ‘Liberals’ these days?

    If the details of the allegations are to be kept secret before the investigation then fine I understand that, but in that case there is, as yet, no public allegation and nothing to comment on or wring hands about.

  • Richard, the public allegations are in the reports and are a lot worse than just asking, ranging from touching of legs/buttocks to attempted false imprisonment. Now I’m not saying these allegations are anything more than allegations, but I think it’s best to wait for the results of the inquiries before we start minimising their importance, yes?

  • @Jennie, – if that’s the allegation then it is a straight police matter and should be reported to them rather than the press.

  • David Wilkinson 5th Mar '13 - 10:19am

    Too many taking sides on this issue, have all the evidence from both sides of the claims before the inquiries and police and take the required.
    Hopefully whatever the outcome there will a big shake in procedures at the national level instead the poorly handled situtation with all and sundary speaking without knowing the facts from both parties involved in the allegations.

    Reading some Lib Dems comments on various postings reminds me of the Tarzan quote “Me Tarzan, you Jane” female members deserved a much better attitude from Liberal Democrats

  • Richard S

    As was explained, the women did not want to create a crisis for the Party – they wanted the unacceptable behaviour to stop. The Party did handle it internally in the best way it knew how (in my opinion ) but then Rennard returned to the position if power over young women. This prompted them to ‘blow the whistle’ Having exhausted other avenues. I think the only mistake here was allowing Rennard to return – that single action has ensured that this turned into a crisis, in the public arena.

    Women are very often reluctant to go to the Police, precisely because of the attitudes we have seen recently (“so he touched her knee, so what?”), they are made to feel they are being silly, irrational and need to ‘toughen up’. One senior female LD went on TV to say the allegations had been “greatly exaggerated” even after the women had gone to the Police.

  • Of course we should avoid speculating on the specific allegations in the Rennard case and just let the inquiries do their job. 

    But Richard S does make a valid point that there does seem to be a tendency to judge behaviour based on the recipient’s response to it, which is a bit concerning. Surely it should be the behaviour that is judged – it shouldn’t depend on what reaction you get (since none of us is psychic). Either it’s ok to proposition someone you work with or it’s not, it shouldn’t be ok if you get a “yes” but unacceptable if you get a “no”.

    Now, I’m not talking about cases of groping etc, but it has been implied that even to verbally proposition someone is unacceptable if they work with you, even if you don’t have direct control over their job. For example, do people consider that Chris Huhne sexually harassed Carina Trimingham? Wasn’t she working directly for him as his press aide when their relationship began? The difference is that she returned his feelings. 

    And while I welcome WLD’s intention to take a fresh look at the position of women in the party (which I hope will include another look at introducing all-women shortlists), I’m very uncomfortable with the undercurrent that has accompanied all the recent discussion of sexual harassment – I have yet to hear anyone mention that women aren’t the only victims of it. 

    A survey in 2006 estimated that about 40% of incidents involved men being harassed by women. However, men were far less likely to report it, partly due to the social stereotype that men are perpetually gagging for it (so they can’t be sexually harassed because presumably they would welcome any such attention). The tone of the current debate, always referring to the victim as “she” and the harasser as “he”, just reinforces the stereotype.

  • paul barker 5th Mar '13 - 12:06pm

    I was the victim of “touching” at work & I have been in 2 minds whether to talk about it . I dont want to seem as though I am being competitive. All joy & suffering is subjective, the only way to tell how badly it hurts is to ask & listen.
    I dont know if the touching I got would look like groping to others, certainly my fellow workers thought it was hilarious. The crucial point is that it gets worse as it goes on, every touch is more disturbing than the last & the ability to stand up for yourself drains away.
    This all happened more than 30 years ago & i have been surprised how upsetting its been to think about it again, perhaps that gives some idea of how much damage these sort of things can do.
    I never tols anyone about what happened to me & the women making these allegations deserve our thanks for having the guts to speak out.

  • @ Catherine – thank you, you said what I wanted to say only much better.

    @ Phyllis – Wishing to avoid embarrassing the party would be an explanation for why their Plan A was to go through the -party (although quietly pushing him out of the party, presumably for him to resurface in some other organisation is hardly a solution to his alleged behaviour IMHO), it isn’t an explanation for why their plan B at this stage is to go on TV news and not to the police.

  • Richard S – it is really quite simple. By going to the Press, the women have ensured that this issue of inappropriate behaviour has been aired in public. More women may feel emboldened to speak out, not just the LD Party but across politics, the media and society as a whole. For too long women have treated unacceptable behaviour from men as their shameful secret. I think the women have done a brave thing in going public and done us all a service in the long term – not least this Party.

  • Richard S “quietly pushing him out of the party, presumably for him to resurface in some other organisation is hardly a solution to his alleged behaviour”

    By going public, the women have sorted this problem out pretty effectively.

  • Liberal Neil 5th Mar '13 - 9:15pm

    @Catherine: “But Richard S does make a valid point that there does seem to be a tendency to judge behaviour based on the recipient’s response to it, which is a bit concerning. Surely it should be the behaviour that is judged – it shouldn’t depend on what reaction you get”

    I’ve not seen anyone arguing that.

    Clearly it is the actual behaviour that should be judged. What is important is the context. Behaviour that might be the norm between two random people in a pub may not be appropriate between a senior manger and a junior employee or volunteer, because of the authority one has over the other.

    Some of the behaviour that has been alleged would clearly not be acceptable at all.

    You make an important point about men being victims too. I think the concentration on the harassment of women in this case has been because of the circumstances that prompted it. I don’t think that is any indication that people don’t take the harassment of men seriously too.

    @Richard S – your comments suggest that you think the women involved have been sitting down for a series of strategy meetings to come up with a series of carefully worked out plans. I don’t think that is anywhere near to the reality. In any event, if their allegations are true, they have nothing to answer for.

  • Paul Barker

    Thank you for your post, I found it very illuminating, especially “The crucial point is that it gets worse as it goes on, every touch is more disturbing than the last & the ability to stand up for yourself drains away.”

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 11:28pm

    Being able to think and feel and talk about unpleasant experiences like these is perhaps just the start of a process of repair and recovery. What are the next steps in that process?

  • @Liberal Neil – that is pretty much the Swansea “allegation” as broadcast in the C4 report (which I have now seen). Unless the party conference was held at Fawlty Towers, then it is the case that hotel rooms come with double beds not only for the exclusive use married couples and those in long term relationships – at some point, someone has to make the suggestion that they be used, and if the recipient of the suggestion “feels” bad about then sorry, but it is a legitimate question between adults. They should then say “no”, or better “no, and don’t ask again”. Then, the onus is then on the person who made the suggestion to apologise, defuse the situation or whatever, the C4 report doesn’t say if Rennard did this or not, because they apparently don’t consider it relevant – only her feelings about the initial approach – this is what Catherine and I, and I would hope anyone with a sense of justice, thinks is wrong. And sorry this does have to be discussed now, because if there is no definition of what is and isn’t harrassment (rather than just unprofessional behaviour) then there is no proper investigation, just either a perceived show trial or a perceived whitewash with the definitions flexing to either “get” or “let off” the accused.

    There are other allegations in the report about which the above does not apply, however.

    I have female employees, and I have to say, I can’t imagine being in any of the situations described however, such as sitting one-on-one at a table in a hotel bar, having them over to my house and so on. Ok, the party is a volunteer organisation mainly, but at the paid professional level, why is it the case that so many important discussions happen in hotels, bars and at Lord Rennard’s private residence?

  • @James Murray,

    I’m not sure there is a consensus. There is an interplay of different factors, so for example the boss has to tread a lot more carefully, although in my opinion he can still find someone at work. Asking someone the third time is ok, depending on the reaction to the second time (actually with my wife, it was later than the second time). Although it is hugely politically incorrect to say that women can legitimse attention from men by how they dress, in practice the rules of reasonable behaviour are very different if the woman is wearing islamic dress.

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