Westminster watershed. The sex abuse scandal could lead to far reaching change.

Westminster watershed. The sex abuse scandal could lead to far reaching change.

Don Brind, who first began working at the Palace of Westminster in the 1970s and is still there gives his perspective

When I first heard rumours of media naming and shaming it looked as though this would be Labour story. A lobbyist friend named a couple of Labour MPs who were said to be “lawyering up”.

In the event it has been allegations about top Tories that have made the running. The most serious allegation, however, has been Bex Bailey’s revelation that she was raped at a Labour party event and was discouraged by a senior party figure from making a complaint lest it “harmed her career”.

While it’s generally true that these scandals have the potential to harm the party in power it’s clear that Jeremy Corbyn is as determined as Theresa May to force through change.

I went along to the BBC on Sunday for the Andrew Marr show in my role as a bag carrier for Dawn Butler the Shadow Women and Equalities minister. She was very forthright. She priased Bex Bailey for her bravery but said “a woman shouldn’t need to be brave to get justice”. The two Tory women on the programme Home Secretary Amber Rudd and former minister Anna Soubry were equally impressive.

The main reason I am confident that radical change will happen is that there is cross party cooperation between Tory and Labour women MPs. It’s also significant that getting for half of the PLP – 45% — are women.

Getting it right at Westminster is important because sexual violence and abuse is widespread in society. In the world of work women’s vulnerability is increased by the growth of the gig economy and zero hours contracts and the decline of trade unionism especially in the private sector.

It is also a serious problem in schools, which was the subject of a Commons debate last week  which got virtually no coverage. It was led by the Tory chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, Maria Miller, who said “Two in three girls under the age of 21 have experienced sexual harassment according to the Girlguiding “Girls’ Attitudes Survey”.

“ In our evidence sessions, colleagues heard about children grabbing breasts, pinging bras, lifting skirts and bottom pinching—all those things are a routine part of daily life for schoolgirls in this country today.

“In 2015, a BBC freedom of information request that was sent to all UK police forces found that more than 5,500 alleged sex crimes, 4,000 sexual assaults and 600 rapes had been reported in UK schools in the previous three years, with at least one in five offences being conducted by children on children.”
She said sex and relationship education is now compulsory in law but the Education Secretary Justine Greening – who is also Women and Equalities minister — has yet to issue the necessary statutory guidance to schools.

Maria Miller said “One year on, very little has changed for children in our schools, other than that they now perhaps feel more confident about speaking out and not being ridiculed. Schools already have clear responsibilities to keep our children safe, but those 7,866 reported cases of abuse in 2016 suggest that the way in which schools are handling this problem does not work.

“If we can change things here in a matter of days, why can we not do the same thing for children?”

Don Brind

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