Sex assaults, abuse and bullying at Westminster revealed in damning report

MPs were today accused of alcohol-fuelled sexual harassment against their members of staff in a damning new report.

It told of incidents ranging from very serious sexual assault, sexually-laden conversations, bullying and harassment.

Most of the victims were women and often the perpetrators were MPs, rather than other staff members.

“Many of the experiences related to me were of unwelcome sexual advances, often accompanied by attempts at kissing,” said Gemma White QC, in the sexual harassment section of her 59-page report.

“Many involved some form of unwanted touching: for example breasts being grabbed, buttocks being slapped, thighs being stroked and crotches being pressed/rubbed against bodies. 

“Most of these experiences were isolated, but some were part of a course of conduct on the part of a Member or fellow member of staff.”

Ms White also told of complaints about sexually inappropriate or sexist comments.

“A recurrent theme amongst the experiences related to me (usually in combination with sexual advances) was of MPs volunteering intimate details about the problems they they were experiencing with their own personal, and sex, lives.” She stressed that a common factor of many of the more serious incidents was the fact that the staff member was with the perpetrator in a private space such as a car, a hotel room or his home.

Most of the experiences of sexual harassment described to her were about the behaviour of MPs. “Many of the incidents occurred following consumption of alcohol and some contributors raised concerns about conduct in the Parliamentary bars,” she added.

Ms White concluded that there is a “significant problem” involving workplace bullying and harassment by MPs towards their staff.

She emphasised: “There is a pressing need for a collective response to what is clearly a significant problem.”

She stressed that most MPs treat their staff with “dignity and respect” but that the problem of bullying and harassment is sufficiently widespread to require an urgent collective response.

“Many MPs have been described to me as excellent employers, colleagues and managers but a minority behave in ways which are not acceptable and fall far short of what we should expect from our elected representatives. 

“Workplace harassment and bullying by MPs towards staff has been tolerated and accepted for too long. It has seriously affected the health and welfare of far too many people. Many describe the idea of complaining about bullying and harassment under the new complaints procedure as ‘career suicide’.”

In one case an MP regarded sexist comments suffered by one person as acceptable “banter” and another made light of complaints they received.

Some who complained to party whips felt that they were more interested in “gathering information” to use against them for political reasons. One contributor described the whips as “logging ammunition for future whipping” rather than offering genuine help.

The inquiry was instigated by the Commons following recommendations from the cross-party steering group on implementing the new Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme.


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