The shocking extent of abuse suffered by counselors in London can be revealed today in a devastating Evening Standard investigation, as 60% of those polled said they had been victims of misogyny.
A counselor reported that a member of her constituency warned her, “I am going to rape you and your daughter. Another told us, “There were magazines going around with my head cut off and rap songs posted by my door about how I should be raped. It dissuaded me from running for Parliament. A third said: “I’ve always had a hard time talking about it publicly, I didn’t want to keep other women out of politics. ”
Their testimony comes as council leaders demand better protection following a “wave of abuse” against councilors and call for “a greater willingness to prosecute those who make threats.” This is also despite the London Councils, the cross-party representative group of local government, acknowledging the “rising tide” of “particularly vile and misogynistic abuse” faced by women councilors.
Earlier this month, the Standard surveyed 58 female and 22 male counselors about their experiences witnessing or experiencing gender-based abuse and found that 45% of male counselors had witnessed abuse against female colleagues. which “would not happen to them”. . While the men said that they had experienced some kind of abuse themselves, they said it was generally much less than their female counterparts.
Seventy percent of female city councilors said they would feel safer if their address was no longer public, calling its current availability “outrageous” and directly contributing to the abuse they face. The home address of advisers is often available online on their interest register. Although councilors have the option of refusing to have their home address publicly available, one said she “had to fight” to have it removed and another described it as a “difficult and difficult process. “.
Across all boroughs, parties, ages and ethnicities, women councilors have reported abuse to the Standard based almost entirely on their gender, including persistent comments about their “reproductive hips,” receiving handwritten cards that read: ” you will always have a seat on my face ”and asked for nudes while dealing with cases.
The work of the counselors involves working on domestic violence, debt crises and safe housing issues.
Establishing relationships with voters is a critical part of being a councilor, but women told The Standard that an increasingly hostile culture of misogyny and abuse has left them feeling vulnerable.
We spoke to four counselors who told us about the gender-based verbal threats, online harassment and physical bullying they faced.
“I have received threats of death, rape and beheading. I was called Taliban, told to go back to where I came from, and threatened with physical assault.
There was a time when fear drove Ms. Assad to constantly check her exit options when she entered a room for a public meeting. Every half hour for the past three weeks she had received phone calls on her private number where the caller said “I know where you live” and told her to “watch her”. She immediately requested that her address be removed from the council’s website.
“I thought I was being followed, I became completely paranoid,” she said. Ms. Assad and another adviser, who wished to remain anonymous, have been the target of endless threatening contact. One week, the latter received more than 200 emails from the same man.
Still, the two women said they had to wait until their council leaders faced such obsessive behavior themselves or spoke out on their behalf before the police intervened. “Originally, I was not taken seriously by the police. It was only when the head of my council and the MP – both men in positions of power – declared their response inadequate that I was escorted by the police for the operations, ”she said. .
Ms. Assad’s ethnic origin is very much present in the abuses she suffers: “Being the first Afghan woman elected to a public office seems to arouse a lot of hatred in the hearts of some men. One of them told me that he hoped that I would be raped and beheaded by a member of the Taliban.
A Croydon adviser noted that “the abuse can be harder on women and Bame [black and minority ethnic] advisers ”.
Childs Hill, Barnet, Work
“He called me at 2 am to talk about his penis and sent me pictures of me shopping. At one point, I was getting 40 phone calls a day from a private number, with heavy breathing in the background.
During Ms Clarke’s advisor for the first time in 2018, a man asked for help because he had been relocated to another borough and was unhappy with the new accommodation – a common request from advisers. Three surgeries later, he started sending her inappropriate messages, punctuating them with the word f *** and saying he wanted to “tie her up”.
At this point, she enlisted the help of the police, who immediately responded to her concerns and told her that the man was a sexual predator, recently released from prison after being convicted of aggravated rape. He was then sentenced. Although she communicated with her about her case, Ms Clarke said council had not informed her of her criminal status.
“Even though my female colleagues have not had stalkers, they have experienced misogyny and sexism. But the people
I don’t know how widespread this is because we don’t want women to be turned off, ”she said. Councilor Arjun Mittra, Ms Clarke’s male colleague said: “People would not have spoken to Anne’s predecessor. [Andrew Dismore] as if they were talking to him.
Hampstead Town, Camden, Curator
“I don’t hear stories from my male colleagues that I got scared while doing their job when safety is constantly on my mind. “
During an operation, Ms Higson grew increasingly suspicious of an aggressive voter she was talking to. Then “he opened his bag – I saw a very, very big knife and I panicked,” she said. Other women have also suffered threats of physical violence – one said she was run over, while another said a man almost hit her because of an unread Facebook message.
“We are cautious in our three-member neighborhood in Kensington and Chelsea about our female colleague meeting with some constituents,” said a male Tory adviser. “There were several incidents [of intimidation]. My male colleagues were never taken to someone’s house and then essentially not allowed out, ”Ms. Higson said. She was referring to an incident in which someone locked the door behind her.
” Who must I call ? If I call 999, will I have the same priority as an MP?
Ms Higson is not the only councilor who was physically prevented from leaving constituents’ homes as she knocked on the door. Some have even suffered attacks behind closed doors. In 2014, Ms Tatler was campaigning at a man’s doorstep. “He closed the door behind me and started yelling and cursing at me. I told him: “You have to let me out … you have to let me out of the house”.
Another time, Ms. Tatler and a colleague were collecting signatures for a petition when “these young students, who had been drinking, grabbed our clipboard, closed the door and told us we couldn’t leave.”
Such intimidation from groups of men can also occur at the doorstep of counselors.
Ms Tatler told us about male residents who knocked on her colleague’s door twice, angry at a decision made by council, prompting the colleague to request that her address be removed.
“I had to move out of my house after a man became obsessed with me – he kept coming and sitting in my garden,” one counselor told us.