Sexual Harassment Reports from Conference

Firstly I’d like to thank all those people who took part in the diversity debate. There were strong feelings on both sides of the argument, and everyone spoke with incredible passion and courage. I really think that wherever you stand on the issue, we can all be proud of such a spirited discussion that’s so unique to our party. I want to work with those who opposed it, to ensure that all the training, mentoring and support works well.

But I also think I speak for many members when I say that there was a cloud overhanging the debate.

A number of very brave young women stood up and made serious allegations regarding the conduct of certain party members, notably men, at Conference and other Party events.

I’ve heard some people try and dismiss this as just a ‘drunken moment’, a ‘grab that didn’t really mean anything’ or ‘that’s just how he is with everyone’. No. Those moments are totally out of order. For the person who endures it, it is abuse, it is a gross intrusion, and it makes them question themselves. Party events are a place they felt safe and at home, but someone took advantage of that. These moments undermine our party and our values, and they have a serious impact on the people who endured them.

A number of members have been in touch with me since the debate, and it is becoming very clear (if it wasn’t already) that this isn’t just a problem young women face – it is young LGBT+ people as well. The kind of behaviour mentioned during the debate is more than just unacceptable: it’s fundamentally illiberal and we all have a responsibility to stamp it out wherever we encounter it.

Unless we root out this attitude from our party, we will suffer these incidents for years and years to come. Young men and women will never feel completely comfortable, and casual sexism, racism and LGBT-phobia will be left unchallenged. Tim and I are clear, this cannot and must not be allowed to happen.

As a party we have failed in the past, but we have grown. We now have a much more vigorous system to deal with complaints. I’m asking everyone to join me in doing whatever we can to root this behaviour out. Make complaints, challenge bad behaviour at the time and then report incidents.

Because of the number of Liberal Youth members affected, I’m hoping to go to their conference in April and talk about how incidents need to be reported and dealt with.

I also want to arrange an everyday sexism event with them in April. Part of the problem is that members who witness such behaviour, as well as those who are targeted, don’t feel the need to challenge this behaviour when they see it, whether in person or online.

We’ve had a number of incidents where the victims have reported it but then refused to let due process (whether police or internal disciplinary) happen. In cases like this, if the victim won’t give evidence, we’re stuck. All too often it’s because they fear the possible consequences for their own progress within the party, or lack the support network to help them through. This is something we need to challenge, and our pastoral care officer Jeanne Tarrant has made an incredible difference since she started, and I know she has been a wonderful support to people who’ve approached her.

If we choose to remain silent, nothing will change. Please, if you have been the victim of sexual harassment, or if you have witnessed it, tell us. All you need to know about how to make a complaint can be found here.

Those in the debate who spoke out loud and clear saying the Diverse MPs motion wouldn’t solve this problem are right: by itself it won’t.

We all, as members, have a responsibility to support those who have suffered sexual harassment by standing with them and encouraging them, so we can all act together to bring this kind of behaviour to an end. We need to live out our liberal values: we need a culture that stops perpetrators in their tracks.

* Baroness Sal Brinton is President of the Liberal Democrats. She is a working Lib Dem peer, and was the candidate for Watford at the 2010 and 2005 General Elections.

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54 Comments

  • If someone makes a serious allegation then get the name of the person and investigate the incident. It’s not rocket science. If the incident is proved kick them out of the party or call in the police. However, the party could do with less of these no name accusations. The party is beginning sound like a “we hate straight men party” lots of accusations but no facts.

  • Sarah Brown 15th Mar '16 - 3:32pm

    @Malc

    “we could do with less of these no name accusations”

    I am politely assuming you mean “we need to stamp out sexual harassment of our members”

  • I’m so pleased to see this article and to know that there is a culture of zero-tolerance to sexism emerging in the Party. I wish Sal and Tim well in this and to all young men and women who are on the receiving end of such behaviour, please be brave and confront, report and make formal complaints about the perpetrator. If you don’t stand up now, it will validate and perpetuate such behaviour for our sons and daughters.

  • paul barker 15th Mar '16 - 3:37pm

    The 1st step in dealing with any evil is to admit that it happens & hurts real people. I am so glad that we are taking that 1st step. Dismissive, glib comments dont help.

  • Malc, as I understand Sal’s article, the problem is not ‘no-name accusations’, though I am sure you will understand that people aren’t going to be named here on LDV. The real problem is that although names are being named, the victims are afraid of the repercussions for themselves by allowing the accusation to go forward through due process. We can all understand why, can’t we, given what has happened in the very high-profile cases of the last few years. People have been accused by their fellow Lib Dems of exaggerating things, of making things up, of seeing to destroy the Party and their accounts have been dismissed by senior colleagues, on national radio, as no worse than the equivalent ‘ of an Italian pinching a woman’s bottom’. That attitude still exists in the Party and I am very pleased that Tom and Sal are calling time on such behaviour and attitudes to unwanted sexual advances.

  • Rebecca Plenderleith 15th Mar '16 - 3:51pm

    @malc

    You’ll forgive me for assumptions, I’m sure. But I’ll assume you’ve never been the victim of sexual abuse or you’d realise just how ridiculous your comment is. Sexual abuse is traumatic and if you’ve not experienced it you have absolutely no idea how difficult it is to say the words “I was sexually abused/assaulted/whatever”. It’s even more difficult to give specifics and for some it’s near impossible to go through a thorough police investigation.

    I am utterly shocked that you would suggest that taking sexual abuse allegations seriously is in any way saying “we hate straight men”. I’m a fan of men, I’m a fan of straight men, I’ve even been known – on occasion – to be a fan of straight, white men. What I am not a fan of is sexual abuse, manipulation or coercion by anyone. Regardless of their gender or the gender of their victims.

    I don’t follow the thinking that taking a hard line against sexual abuse is in any way infringing on how we view straight men.

  • phill roberts 15th Mar '16 - 3:53pm

    Dear Sal, many thanks for following this up with a clear committment to address the issues and support victims of abuse.
    I would urge anyone who has been subject to abuse to come forward and have the courage to name the people who been involved.

  • Lorraine Johnson 15th Mar '16 - 4:11pm

    Well said Sal. We need to support our fellow members especially the younger ones to speak out against this kind of abuse & get it stopped. Having said that I wouldn’t want to discourage genuine affectionate contact between friends My sister Deb & I both kissed one of our new members on the cheek & he was thrilled. He said he’d never been kissed by two women simultaneously before 😉 I think it’s very important to make sure that any kind of contact is welcome though. We are very affectionate people but not everyone is comfortable with that.

  • I’m slightly confused, there appeared to be a specific issue in focus at the start, people being sexually assaulted. However part way through there then seemed to be a drift in to “sexism, racism and LGBT-phobia.”

    It sounds like there were specific accusations about the first point, but it was less clear if actually there was also a series of reports of racist abuse. If any incidents of any sort take place that is terrible but if there are specific claims about one and vague general concerns about another it is better to stick with the issue where you know there are events you can look in to.

    The general impression that “there probably is a problem with X” is not something to encourage, an impression can take effect by people assuming there is a problem where one doesn’t initially exist. Though a false impression can develop an atmosphere of fear which will really impact on people. It would have helped if the issues of concern were clearer, some things can become self-fulfilling prophecies.

  • Sheesh!

  • The onus is never on the victims. I’m shocked at this article.

  • a ‘drunken moment’
    There is a lot to be said for temperance.

  • Andrew

    In order for someone to act they need to know that action is needed. I think it is reasonable for someone to say that they want to take the matter seriously and encourage peoepl to come froward (provided done appropriately). If your alternative is that you want action to be taken without any infomation how do you expect any responce to be sensible?

  • Tracy Connell 15th Mar '16 - 4:34pm

    The point is that it’s not just abut sexual harrassment. It is about a culture in the party beyond this.

    Your own allies, Sal, talked of men being favoured for selection. This is all part of the same culture. This is why it was relevant to the AWS argument because AWS does not fix it. The underlying sexism will still be there, but not only that I fear it will create resentment.

    Yes sexual harassment should be addressed (I have experienced incidents of it myself), but in the context of AWS you completely miss the point.

  • Stephen Howse 15th Mar '16 - 4:36pm

    “I don’t follow the thinking that taking a hard line against sexual abuse is in any way infringing on how we view straight men.”

    Well said, Rebecca – it doesn’t.

    I’m glad to see the powers that be taking a firm line on this.

    For me, the key section of this article is:-

    “Part of the problem is that members who witness such behaviour, as well as those who are targeted, don’t feel the need to challenge this behaviour when they see it, whether in person or online.”

    Look out for each other, and if you see one individual behaving appallingly towards another – don’t look the other way or think it’s not your place to intervene, challenge it. The only way we will build a better culture within this party is by tackling incidents one by one and making clear to those who behave badly that they need to either shape up or ship out.

  • I’m pleased to see this article. It’s tragic that it’s needed, but I’m glad the party president is personally taking this stand.

    Young people under attack – which sexual assault is – deserve better than they’ve had in the past. Thank you, Sal, for paying attention. It’s incumbent on all of us to make these attitudes & actions completely unacceptable.

  • Well, sometimes the victim just wants it to stop; they don’t want the police involved which means making statements and then possibly having to go to court. However, it seems that it’s the police or nothing. That can be a daunting prospect for a young person in a political party, especially if the instigator is a PPC or someone senior. Anybody who’s ever been the target of sexual harassment knows that reporting it is only the start of the trauma. There are fears of backlash, not being believed, being pushed out through bullying, even claims that ‘he/she was flirting with me’.

    I really do think that Sal knows that when a victim feels unable to report an incident (for any number of very valid reasons), that doesn’t equate to “don’t feel the need to challenge this behaviour”. We really need to show the victims that we support them and understand. Suggesting that victims don’t feel the need to challenge does not offer support or understanding. Quite the opposite, I’d say.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Mar '16 - 4:57pm

    Malc’s comment is quite inappropriate, but the question of whether to publicly name suspects but not accusers is a fair area for debate. The party needs to make sure it has fair procedures in place this time too if anyone would like to take the accusations further. Has the level of proof requirement been lowered yet?

    Of course anyone who feels threatened shouldn’t be made to give their name publicly.

    The Liberal Youth women and members should be treated with the highest degree of respect. Well done to Sal Brinton for following this up.

  • Sue Doughty 15th Mar '16 - 5:01pm

    Its really important that you do report. We can’t have people feeling vulnerable when they have had one drink too much, or when the person concerned is in a senior position.

  • Robert Mason 15th Mar '16 - 5:16pm

    I wasn’t at the conference, but that this post needs to be posted at all really saddens me.

    We must not be a party that allows excuses such as ‘drunken moment’ to be a sufficient excuse for behaviour that is unacceptable.

    I really struggle as a middle aged, white, father of 4 to see why anyone in their right mind would consider behaviour which deliberately makes someone else feel insecure, violated, objectified or shamed is in any way appropriate. I understand that politics can be a cut throat business, but these are people on our side! (even if they live differently to me and disagree with some of my views). They are our nearest and dearest. To be clear, there is a chasm of difference between saying to someone ‘hey I like you, can we get to know each other some more’ and smutty/sexual talk, inappropriate touching, degrading comments, judgemental attitudes and ‘jokes’ that ridicule a persons identity. We must stamp out this sort of unnecessary and damaging behaviour.

    We’re a political party, with diverse people among our members about a serious work. My advice to those who want to be bawdy, inappropriate and offensive, especially when they drink, is to stop drinking and consider whether you’ve got much to offer a society in the way of leadership if you think so little of other people to treat them this way.

  • Mick Taylor 15th Mar '16 - 5:45pm

    There can be no tolerance of any kind of sexual harassment. What makes me so annoyed is that we still have to deal with this problem after years and years of experience in doing so. What is it that the abusers don’t understand about the word no and what do they think gives them the right to act in the way they do?
    It is absolutely not acceptable to witness abuse going on and turn a blind eye to it. It is everyone’s duty to speak out about it and ensure that the appropriate officers in the party get to hear about it so they can act

  • There appears to be some confusion from some commenter’s. Given these deplorable events are still going on is it not time to consider compulsory training for members on sexism and inappropriate behaviour awareness ?

  • It falls to all of us to be aware that some of our number still find this sort of behaviour acceptable. If you have been groped it is often not possible to identify the perpetrator who often does what he does from behind in the “safety” of a crowd. If the many, many decent men in this party are also monitoring the behaviour of those around them in the way women have always been instructed to do then we’d have twice the chance of identifying the individuals concerned and having corroborating witnesses. There is equally no reason why LGBT members should have to put up with it.
    People who do this have no place amongst us.

  • I agree with Tim and Sal “We all, as members, have a responsibility to support those who have suffered sexual harassment by standing with them and encouraging them, so we can all act together to bring this kind of behaviour to an end. We need to live out our liberal values: we need a culture that stops perpetrators in their tracks.”.

  • @Tracy
    “This is why it was relevant to the AWS argument because AWS does not fix it. The underlying sexism will still be there, but not only that I fear it will create resentment.”

    AWS can neither fix underlying sexism nor create it where it does not already exist. What it might do – hopefully – is increase the numbers and prominence of women such that the men who participate in this kind of “culture” start to feel they are no longer so welcome.

    I’m actually a bit shocked that so many people are so shocked by this. I think a lot of people delude themselves that this kind of thing is rare, but only last week a Yougov survey found that 64% of British women have been sexually harassed in some way, with 35% saying they had suffered “unwanted sexual touching”. I’m very conscious of the fact that I, as a man, am statistically very unlikely to ever have to put up with this kind of thing, which is why I have so little time for those men (and for that matter women) who dismiss the idea that women have an inbuilt disadvantage in many ways.

  • To go back to the thrust of Sal’s article: I’ve seen a number of suggestions that people don’t say anything when an inappropriate encounter is happening because you can never be sure if it’s welcome or not.

    A suggestion: if you see something happening and you’re not sure if it’s welcome or not, just go and ask the person it’s happening to if they are ok. You don’t even have to word it like that: a “hey, how are you doing? I’ve not seen you for ages!” in the right place can prevent something awful from happening and if the behaviour is welcome you can retire gracefully with everyone’s dignity intact. In my experience if the behaviour IS unwelcome you’ll get gratitude from the victim and anger from the perpetrator. That’s when reporting needs to happen.

  • Barry Snelson 15th Mar '16 - 7:26pm

    “Malc” came in for some severe riposte but until these individuals are imprisoned and/or placed on the Sex Offenders Register they are unlikely to desist. Impassioned articles by Ms Brinton and supportive posts can have no effect at all on them and can only serve to make all males feel guilty even those of us who are completely innocent.
    The party has to provide the support to get the police involved. What is being alleged are criminal offences, not mere breaches of the LibDem rule book, and if the victims can not be given the support to give evidence these men will progress to steadily worse and worse crimes.

  • I wasn’t at the Conference, but this is deeply depressing to read. To state the bleeding obvious, anyone who witnessed such behaviour (not just the victims) need to some forward and report it.

    I sincerely hope that in the coming months I read on LDV that (following due process) the guilty members have been ejected from the party (and reported to the police).

    Because the only thing that will be more depressing than reading this article, will be a realision later that those involved have got away with it….

  • Rabi Martins 15th Mar '16 - 8:20pm

    I was shocked when I heard the accusations being made by speaker after speaker during the debate
    Sal’s article is welcome as it makes clear such behaviour as has alleged is totally unacceptable It brings the Party into disrepute and is also likely to put many young women from joining and participating in the Party
    Sal is right We must deal investigate these allegations and we can because we now have “vigorous system to deal with complaints”

    So let us put this vigorous system to the test
    If we have individuals who have come forward we should encourage and support them to make a formal complaint and then deal with these complaints speedily
    There is actually a strong case for Sal writing to ALL women who attended conference and inviting anyone who feels they were subject to inappropriate attention to come forward This will tell us the extent of the problem
    But more importantly it will demonstrate that when the Party says it has a zero tolerance policy on such behaviour it means it
    I’m asking everyone to join me in doing whatever we can to root this behaviour out. Make complaints, challenge bad behaviour at the time and then report incidents.

  • The sheer effrontery of Malc’s comments aside, one reason that people are reluctant to come forward with names is that very often those who have behaved inappropriately will not recognise that they have; at that point, it becomes one person’s word against another. And I’d hope he’d agree that airing those names in a public forum like LDV before facts have even been established would be wholly irresponsible.

    I’ve noticed, in this and a lot of other debates and comment threads on the same issue, that some people seem to assume that general comments must apply to them, personally. They don’t. Unless, of course, they doth protest too much?

  • I am an older woman who has been involved with equality campaigning for more than 40 years, and I thought that in that time we had gone a long way towards fixing some of these problems. I was at the debate and was very concerned at what I heard. First I wondered whether the young women were deliberately exaggerating to make a point. Then I wondered whether there was something about young Liberal Democrats – or Liberal Democrats in general – which engendered/tolerated this behaviour. So today I spent some time talking to a fellow student – nothing to do with the LDs – who is about 25, intelligent, robust and (I would have thought) fully capable of looking after herself. I relayed the statements to her and asked for her comments. She simply said that this was the experience of most young women (and many LGBT people) in British society today, and outlined some of the quite detailed steps she took to keep herself safe.

    Given that she had absolutely no reason to mislead me, it’s clear that this is a problem that runs far more widely than our own party. We can and must do everything possible to make the Lib Dem environment better than the outside world. The new provisions to deal with bullying and harassment are good – but useless unless we can act on them. The comments above about having the guts to make proper complaints, identify offenders and being prepared to go through the investigation and disciplinary processes are correct. We cannot deal with people who behave badly unless we have evidence – we are a liberal party, after all, and must act justly and fairly. The pastoral care officer, investigators and disciplinary panel members will always maintain confidentiality about cases they are dealing with.

    But this is clearly a problem of culture in general as well as of specific offences by individuals who can/should be dealt with. We need local party and organisation officers who themselves have the guts to confront bad behaviour when they see it, before it gets to the stage where it seems to be acceptable. As individual members we must become far more aware of inappropriate comments – whether throw-aways at meetings or stuff on social media – and stop waiting for someone else to do something about them. Which also means challenging our own preconceptions and assumptions – as that debate has forced me to do in the last couple of days. It takes guts to make changes. ‘They’ will not sort this out. We – all of us – must.

  • Jenny Barnes 16th Mar '16 - 8:56am
  • Tracy Connell 16th Mar '16 - 9:14am

    @Stuart I do not believe that AWS will have any effect on the party culture. People need to be educated that certain behaviour (from favouring a candidate just because he is a man, to sexual harassment). It may even create resentment where there is a qualified and experience local man wanting to stand but can’t because you want to parachute people in because of their gender. It won’t just effect the local man but the whole local party.

    Stages of recruitment, training and mentoring in local and regional parties needs to be address. You need to start at the bottom, not the top! AWS is a divisive top-down system. And just because the Labour and Conservative parties do it doesn’t mean we should. I thought the point of the Lib Dems was that we were different. And, besides, we do not have ‘Safe Seats’ like the other parties. So I think the party will find this may backfire. Not to mention the fact that it violates our constitution on grounds of discrimination.

    On the subject of reporting sexual harassment, the form requires names of the person you are complaining about. You don’t always know the person’s name or forget what it was. It’s not exactly comforting to be presented with paperwork when initially you may just need someone to speak to. Whilst our pastoral care officer can help, she can’t sit down and speak one to one with every victim. The system is cold and off-putting and puts things on the onus of a victim who may be too scared to come forward. Members of the party need to be educated from the bottom up, starting with local parties.

    Years ago I remember someone tell me that conference was regarded as a knocking shop. The mindset that you can go to conference and make advances on someone needs to be targetted. And don’t think this is limited to older members of the party. In Liverpool I had a young lad try to force himself on me. He can’t have been more than about 17.

    But we also must be careful not to alienate men in the party. I would say the vast majority wouldn’t even think of doing something like that.

    Educate from the bottom up and have a more sensitive approachable system for anyone effected by such behaviour. The Pastoral Care officer appointment is progress, but not sufficient.

  • I’m a middle-aged man and so probably do not have the same perspective on this as women do, but in the work and leisure related activities I am involved in I have seen great progress made with regard to this kind of behaviour.

    Certainly the appalling behaviour that women may have been expected to tolerate 30 years ago is viewed as completely unacceptable nowadays.

    I have to say that in my workplace, and at the work-related conferences that I attend, this type of harassment is virtually unheard of these days.

    This makes it all the more shocking that it is still apparently going on at a LibDem party conference of all places.

    It may be that “only” 2 or 3 men were responsible for inflicting this on multiple women. If so, it should be relatively easy to identify and deal with them. I certainly hope it’s not significantly more…..

  • Tracy Connell 16th Mar '16 - 11:26am

    “this isn’t just a problem young women face – it is young LGBT+ people as well” Young? This sounds patronising. It affects us oldies too!

  • Hilton Marlton 16th Mar '16 - 12:14pm

    Sal, thanks for being proactive on this and please tackle it to its roots.

    I was at a local party social event recently when a prominent Lib Dem member asked us to clear our tables so the ladies could wash the dishes. I went into the kitchen to offer help only to be told that men aren’t up to the job. (As a gay man, I should have said that I am perfectly capable of making a quiche and loading a dishwasher and rearranging the furniture. It would have got a laugh but would only have entrenched the position.)

    If we start by making people aware of the slippery slope of casual sexism and stereotyping, then we can change the culture from the bottom up. This surely is the Lib Dem way. I guess, we can change the world by changing ourselves.

  • Nonconformistradical 16th Mar '16 - 12:27pm

    Rabi Martins said

    “There is actually a strong case for Sal writing to ALL women who attended conference and inviting anyone who feels they were subject to inappropriate attention to come forward This will tell us the extent of the problem But more importantly it will demonstrate that when the Party says it has a zero tolerance policy on such behaviour it means it”

    There’s an even stronger case for Sal writing to ALL MEN who attended conference – to remind them of their responsibilities not only to refrain from any such conduct themselves but also to discourage other men around them from indulging.

    Stop trying to blame the victims. It’s the perpetrators who need dealing with!

  • Robert Adamson 16th Mar '16 - 12:33pm

    As a pale male I was shocked by some of the comments by young women, not least because I never realised that comments, compliments et al which I had made in the past were indeed inappropriate mild harassment. I feel that a short conference session in the main auditorium and a simple booklet explaining this common sense would be very useful.

  • Barry Snelson 16th Mar '16 - 1:10pm

    Brinton uses the word ‘serious’ in para 3. That is a matter for North Yorkshire Police and only them. It would only take one or two brave souls to push this to a conclusion in the courts and those guilty would face proper consequences.
    If the allegations are actually lesser ones, then the party seems stuck in a mid 20th century time warp and it is the males who should be sternly warned, by the party hierarchy, that it is time to join the 21st century and modernise. Forty years ago flirting was commonplace (and the Christmas parties events of legend), there were lots of office romances and even weddings. But all that has long passed away in modern workplaces. Most contractors will instantly dismiss a builder who whistles at a woman. I used to warn all the males working for me that a single wrong word could make their
    reputations and careers toast. The LibDems need a modern culture wherein all events under the party banner are businesslike and utterly professional or we will alienate and lose the able women we desperately need.

  • Nonconformistradical 16th Mar '16 - 3:52pm

    @Robert Adamson

    “I never realised that comments, compliments et al which I had made in the past were indeed inappropriate mild harassment. I feel that a short conference session in the main auditorium and a simple booklet explaining this common sense would be very useful.”

    By ‘compliments’ I’ll take it, for an example, that perhaps these might refer to female attire or hairdo.

    If you were having a conversation with another male, say about some aspect of party finance, would you compliment him on his dress sense or hair style? Of course you wouldn’t. So why would you (apparently) do so if you were having the otherwise identical conversation with a female? What she happened to be wearing wouldn’t be relevant to the discussion.

    See Barry Snelson’s posting below yours. Barry gets it. Times have moved on.

  • Mick Taylor 16th Mar '16 - 4:45pm

    I think the problem is that I know of serial offenders, who seem to get away with it, including a former Liberal PPC, who the complainants were assured would never hold office or be a PPC ever again, turned up again in the Liberal Democrats both as a constituency officer and a candidate. And I have reported this to no effect as far as I know.
    That’s why people don’t complain, because they don’t expect it to have any effect. I do really hope that the new regime will deal with this harassment, but I suspect many women in our party are not holding their breaths.

  • Barry Snelson 16th Mar '16 - 5:28pm

    It is up to the leadership to be firm and clear. Announce that there have been complaints made about the harassing behaviour of several males and that it will stop or the offenders will be ejected from the party. Be forthright and uncompromising.
    I think the females can help establish a modern culture by not touching the men. I detested, in the workplace, the woman who would touch your shoulder or squeeze your forearm to make a point. I had to smile sweetly but hated it (and avoided sitting next to her in future). The no touching rule should apply to both genders

  • @Barry – “The no touching rule should apply to both genders”

    Homo Sapiens is a social species in the family of great apes – a social family of mammals in which informal non-sexual touching is both normal and, in fact, essential for normal social functioning, and has been for over 10,000,000 years.

    Hostility to any human informal physical contact is actually not normal and is a common sign of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It’s important to not throw out the baby with the bath-water. Our current problem with inappropriate touching and sexual assault (particularly combined with alcohol) should not lead to over-reaction and the eradication of what is normal behavior. The two issues are different and should not be conflated.

    It’s perfectly possible to take strong and necessary action against sexually motivated touching without eliminating the informal physical contact that has been shown to be extremely important in the development of children (oxytocin production), and is an integral part of the functioning of all social species on Earth.

  • Barry Snelson 16th Mar '16 - 9:29pm

    A lot of things happened 10,000,000 years ago that aren’t acceptable now. A handshake is still fine but touching any other part of the body, by male or female, can, and does, create offence. So don’t do it.

  • @Barry – In the sound functioning of a liberal society, we attempt to set the boundaries of “normal” behaviour according to logical reason and sensible justification. We do not simply announce “It creates offence. So don’t do it”, as someone, somewhere is offended by everything. That way leads to, e.g., bans on homosexual affection in public, bans on breastfeeding in public, and so on – those are activities that cause much greater offence to many more people than a workmate putting a hand on one’s shoulder to gather our attention. But we argue that the offence-taking there is unreasonable and should be over-ridden.

    There are already sound norms and taboos against inappropriate touching and sexual touching; they are being violated and that’s a problem we are trying to fix, but there is no need to expand the scope of the taboo to include all informal touching. There’s no need to be an absolutist here – almost no one really wants to live in a world where all unrequested physical contact becomes taboo.

  • Mike MacSween 17th Mar '16 - 12:33am

    Better lead from the platform then. Observe party members and senior members and how they interact with other speakers, especially in greeting them on the platform.

    Very gendered. Why the difference?

  • Sarah Taylor 17th Mar '16 - 11:53am

    I can assure you this isn’t just a problem for young people in the party. Though the perpetrators are, in my experience, older men.

  • Robert Adamson 17th Mar '16 - 3:33pm

    Nonconformist, please don’t just make assumptions. Yes I have complimented men on smart shirts, nice suits et al, with no sexual innuendo. What I realised in the diversity debate is that it doesn’t matter what I intend, if my words might cause distress then I shouldn’t say them; in other words I “got it”.

  • Barry Snelson 17th Mar '16 - 5:50pm

    MBoy,
    I’m sorry but you need to get with the programme. Unrequested physical contact already is taboo in the modern workplace and has been for many years. I sincerely hope you don’t go round touching workmates. You are taking risks.
    Everything you say is fine but only in a social context with your close friends. Your workmates aren’t your friends and neither are co-workers in a political movement where a no-touching and no-flirting rule is absolute. The blurred double standards world you describe is not appropriate any more. Sorry.

  • For reasons I’m unsure of I don’t like physical contact with people I’m not in a relationship with. Unfortunately a lot of female members don’t give me that space. One female councillor did notice my discomfort and now asks me if she can give me a hug.

  • Nonconformistradical 18th Mar '16 - 5:44pm

    @Martin Land

    “For reasons I’m unsure of I don’t like physical contact with people I’m not in a relationship with.”

    Doesn’t matter what the reasons are – it is your right not to expect physical contact from others if you don’t want it. The issue is with those who think it is OK without establishing OKness first.

  • Diane Reddell 27th Mar '16 - 2:22pm

    I attended the conference in York and I was surprised by this article as I did not witness any of this. Although I did not attend any of the socials at the hotel this time around. I found people were very friendly which was a little strange at first but it is how society should be. If any further occurrences happen like this I advise people to tell the person they find their behaviour unacceptable. Always socialise in at least twos My university made this video as part of line campaign to promote awareness. https://youtu.be/hb4DN_D3rd0

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