Many in Westminster don't understand the power dynamics at play between male MPs, senior political party figures and other staff like assistants and researchers.
The Green Party has called for MPs to be given consent lessons, as allegations of sexual harassment and assault threaten to engulf Westminster.
You’d think it would be difficult for anyone to criticise this proposal, given the apparent prevalence of sexual harassment, assault and rape in both major political parties.
Earlier this week, a list of allegations against 36 Tory politicians was leaked to journalists and later shared in full on social media. The list has prompted other women to come forward, alleging they were harassed or assaulted by politicians or senior party figures.
Yesterday, Michael Fallon quit as defence secretary saying his behaviour had “fallen short” of the standards expected, after it emerged that he made unwanted advances towards journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer fifteen years ago.
But when Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas went on Talk Radio today to debate the idea of ongoing and compulsory lessons for politicians, covering consent, appropriate language and professional boundaries, her plan was attacked by Hartley-Brewer.
The journalist — who has said she was not remotely distressed by Fallon’s behaviour — said of the Green’s proposal:
“I find that frankly almost as offensive as asking university students to be taught not to rape.
“We’ve got a few people who harass women and then we’re going to accuse effectively all men of it.”
Hartley-Brewer seems to have missed all but the most sensationalist headlines from the debate over ‘I Heart Consent’ training in universities, which has raged sporadically over recent years as the NUS-run lessons have been rolled out in more and more institutions around the country.
Far from accusing all men of being rapists, consent training aims to clarify what consent means and tackle pervasive myths that contribute to rape culture, which is defined as an environment in which prevailing social attitudes normalise or trivialise sexual assault.
According to Green Party deputy leader Amelia Womack there is little understanding in Westminster of the power dynamics at play between male MPs, senior political party figures and other staff like assistants and researchers. Teaching men what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour is therefore imperative.
“As the number of sexual harassment and assault allegations grows, it becomes more and more apparent that many have no idea what is and isn’t appropriate in the workplace.
“Westminster is far from unique in its failure to tackle harassment, and these measures will not protect women in other workplaces, but it is a step in the right direction.”
The Green party also want to Introduce consent lessons as part of compulsory PSHE in schools, which they say would make a wider impact and help keep the next generation safe from harassment.
But for the time being, Westminster should be leading the way, Womack said, by introducing “mandatory training to prevent sexual harassment and assault in the first place, alongside robust reporting procedures where perpetrators will be held to account when it does occur.”
Charlotte England is a freelance journalist and writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.
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