It’s now been over a week since news broke of a Conservative MP accused of rape by a former parliamentary aide. To date, the party have refused to suspend him, despite repeated calls from women’s groups, campaigners and fellow MPs. Chief Whip Mark Spencer said that the rape allegations against the MP were being taken seriously.
Not seriously enough to warrant a suspension so that others could be safeguarded, it would appear.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended his party’s decision not to suspend the MP as he was waiting for “police to decide whether they wanted to make changes”.
In any other profession, anyone accused of serious sexual offences would face immediate suspension followed by an investigation.
Johnson’s continued refusal to suspend will not inspire confidence among either campaigners or survivors of sexual violence.
The latest England and Wales rape statistics make for alarming reading. In the year 2019-2020, police recorded 55,130 rapes, but of this figure, only 2,102 resulted in prosecutions, with 1,439 convicted.
If we compare the latest numbers against figures for the same period three years previously, the overall figure has increased by a third, yet convictions have halved.
This is not the first time the government has fallen short in its commitment to keeping women safe and holding perpetrators of sexual violence and abuse in positions of power to account for their misbehaviour.
In 2018, I wrote about Theresa May restoring the whip to two MPs suspended following accusations of sexual impropriety so that she could win a no-confidence vote triggered against her by her own party.
Of those two MPs, Charlie Elphicke has since been convicted of three counts of sexual assault against two women in 2007 and 2016.
Former MP Andrew Griffith, found to have sent some 2,000 texts to two young female constituents while a sitting MP, insisting they call him “Daddy” and demanding explicit photos of them, was allowed back in to help prop up May’s tenuous grip on power.
As a campaigner and activist, I have always been very vocal in my desire to see more women, especially from a BAME background, enter politics and make positive changes from the top down.
Sadly, the more we are faced with stories such as this latest one, where MPs accused of serious sexual crimes are able to use their power to hide behind, the more difficult it is to promote Parliament as a safe and secure place to work in.
That culture of misogyny and impunity is allowed to thrive – with the “old boys network” acting to protect one another – will push more women out of politics and deter others from seeking a career in politics and public life.
The latest accusation of sexual assault has been raised as a concern in a joint statement released by the Centenary Action Group, a UK based cross-party coalition working to improve women’s representation in politics, The Fawcett Society, a charity campaigning for gender equality, and the Trades Union Congress. Continue reading on HuffPost.
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