It has come to light that a few young female activists have made complaints to the Conservative Central office about alleged sexual harassment by the same individual in the party. Unfortunately due to the way CCHQ deal with complaints, one of the women took to Twitter to criticise the complaints procedure. Though she did blank out the name of the alleged harasser it soon became known who it was that was being accused and then it hit the media.
Now at this point I would like to highlight that I feel accusers should be given anonymity until the allegations are found to be true and so I am not condoning the release of his name. But this blog is about the reaction to the young female activists. As a victim of sexual harassment and sexual assault myself, I can tell you that the first thing a women does when something like this happens is blame herself. So blaming her is a pointless exercise. I can also tell you from someone who was never brave enough to report a sexual assault because of fear and also past bad experiences of reporting other harassment, a women speaking out when she is in the position that Elena Bunbury is in whereby she plans on standing as a perspective Parliamentary Candidate is incredibly brave. The reaction to her speaking out is sadly predictable.
As soon as I saw what was unfolding on twitter I knew what kind of reaction these ladies would get. It’s the same I have received over the years that has led me to have anxiety about myself. I always blame myself first and wonder how I could have changed my behaviour or maybe even my clothing. But in reality it doesn’t matter how I dress, or what I say there will always be a skilled predator waiting who understands consent but chooses to ignore it because he knows culturally he can.
When I was in the Territorial Army aged 20, I had to have a full medical assessment. The appointment was arranged out of hours and so the doctor’s surgery was empty as it was on a Saturday. The doctor opened the front door and held it open for me, but stood in the way so I would have to brush past him. During the examination I was asked to take off my clothes, though I did keep my knickers on. He examined me pretty thoroughly including a breast examination. Afterwards I had to do stretches and at that point I asked if I could put my clothes back on. The whole thing felt uncomfortable but I did all that was asked because he was a doctor. Afterwards I went back to my unit and said what had happened and everyone laughed. Ah he got another young woman to undress and he was able to fondle her. I felt upset, embarrassed and stupid. I mentioned it to higher ranks but it was brushed off and at the time I felt nothing could be done as this was seen as funny. As the years have gone on, I’ve even laughed it off myself to make it ok. I should have known better after all. But in reality it never was ok for a man to use his position to touch me inappropriately and it wasn’t my fault.
The culture we live in, is still at that place where us women are expected to know what goes on in the minds of men. We are expected to know who to trust and who not to. As the years have gone on and further sexual harassment and a sexual assault later, I’m still none the wiser on what I can do to protect myself other than locking myself away in a tower for no man to ever be around me. Perhaps it would be far better for us to stop blaming the victims and stop twisting events to make it sound as if they could have been avoided.
The sun unsurprisingly ran Elena’s story without her permission and quoted her without even contacting her. They also went through her photos on social media to find one of her ready for a night out. Why? To reinforce this idea that a certain ‘type’ of woman with a certain look are the ones who get sexually harassed. Elena’s alleged harassment happened whilst she was in a professional capacity, so why not use the photos available of her wearing her work attire? Well that wouldn’t help with the victim blaming would it? This also prompted an online backlash where people have criticised Elena about her looks and how she dresses as if she brought this all on herself. Let’s not forget, she is the alleged victim in this.
The #metoo movement seems like a lifetime ago and have we learnt anything? Why after so many women and men opened up about their harassment are we still tolerating this culture of victim blaming?
It has been hard to write this blog because it hits me so personally but I look at my children in hope that when they are old enough our culture will have changed so my daughter is not seen as asking for it, if she wants to look pretty. I want to live in a world where men and women are safe from the predators who seem to get far more support than those of the prey they target. We all have a part to play to change this culture. I ask for anyone out there who is in a situation where a person is harassing another one. Please stop it from happening and don’t laugh it off. Don’t add to the problem and make it so the predator thinks its acceptable behaviour, because remember this may one day be your mother, sister, daughter or maybe even father, brother or son who is the victim. No one is safe from this until we all call this out and put a stop to this victim blaming culture.