Tory MP rape arrest: Is Westminster safe for women?
The 2017 ‘Pestminster’ story, which saw cabinet ministers resign over allegations of sexual misconduct, was not the toll many had hoped for. Everyday sexism and allegations of sexual assault still seem to be part of the fabric of political life.
Some male MPs viewed the allegations as a joke and merely part of the uproar in Parliament. I remember having a drink with an MP as a spreadsheet detailing the allegations against Tory MPs was circulating in Parliament. The MP expressed his disappointment, not at the alleged behavior of his colleagues, but rather at the fact that he had not been put on the list.
The situation has hardly changed in five years. This week, Tory MP Michael Fabricator tweeted about the arrest of the unnamed Tory MP accused of rape, suggesting it would make a fun Guess Who game. Victims often feel like they won’t be taken seriously or will be told they are overreacting and can’t hack a career in politics. By tolerating ‘low level’ harassment and misogyny, MPs take no action when more serious allegations arise.
Unlike most workplaces, which have protective procedures, there is no mechanism to bar MPs who are under investigation for sexual misconduct from appearing in the House of Commons. Young female employees are forced to share their workplace with suspected rapists, forced to protect themselves and be wary of people they might end up alone with.
Former Dover MP Charlie Elphicke was found guilty of multiple sexual assaults in 2020. But he was free to continue in public life unhindered and exert his influence after initial allegations were made. And despite some of the alleged offenses committed within Parliament itself, he was able to roam the grounds freely.
At the time, a friend told me how she had run for an elevator, only to find once the doors closed that she was standing alone with Elphicke. It was, in his words, “the longest elevator ride of my life”.