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Draft Sexual Harassment Policy for Palace of Westminster 

This sample sexual harassment policy is intended for use by existing regulatory bodies working at the Palace of Westminster to help them develop their own sexual harassment policies.
It is based on international good practices and includes all the components which make a sexual harassment policy comprehensive. As such, it is not intended to be a collection of clauses from which Members can pick and choose. Instead, any effective policy must include most if not all of the content of this sample policy.


The Policy Statement for the Palace of Westminster is committed to providing a safe environment for all its employees free from discrimination on any ground and from harassment at work including sexual harassment.  Palace of Westminster will operate a zero tolerance policy for any form of sexual harassment in the workplace, treat all incidents seriously and promptly investigate all allegations of sexual harassment. Any person found to have sexually harassed another will face disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal from employment regardless of existing position.

All complaints of sexual harassment will be taken seriously and treated with respect and in confidence. No one will be victimised for making such a complaint.

[Explanatory note: This explains in broad terms what the policy is about and sets out the intention of the organisation in adopting the policy.]

Definition of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature which makes a person feel offended, humiliated and/or intimidated. It includes situations where a person is asked to engage in sexual activity as a condition of that person’s employment, as well as situations which create an environment which is hostile, intimidating or humiliating for the recipient.
Sexual harassment can involve one or more incidents and actions constituting harassment may be physical, verbal and non-verbal.

Examples of conduct or behaviour which constitute sexual harassment include, but are not limited to:

Physical conduct

Unwelcome physical contact including patting, pinching, stroking, kissing, hugging, fondling, or inappropriate touching.

Physical violence, including sexual assault
 Physical contact, e.g. touching, pinching

The use of job-related threats or rewards to solicit sexual favours

Verbal conduct
 Comments on a worker’s appearance, age, private life, etc.

 Sexual comments, stories and jokes
 Sexual advances
 Repeated and unwanted social invitations for dates or physical intimacy
 Insults based on the sex of the worker
 Condescending or paternalistic remarks

 Sending sexually explicit messages (by phone or by email) Non-verbal conduct


Leering

Display of sexually explicit or suggestive material Sexually-suggestive gestures
Whistling
[Explanatory note: This section defines sexual harassment. If examples are included, it is important to note that they are not exhaustive and that sexual harassment can include any conduct of a sexual nature which is unwanted and unwelcome by the recipient.]
Anyone can be a victim of sexual harassment, regardless of their sex and of the sex of the harasser. The Palace of Westminster recognises that sexual harassment may also occur between people of the same sex. What matters is that the sexual conduct is unwanted and unwelcome by the person against whom the conduct is directed.

[Explanatory note: This recognises that men and women can be victim of sexual harassment in the workplace.]

The Palace of Westminster  recognises that sexual harassment is a manifestation of power relationships and often occurs within unequal relationships in the workplace, for example between Member and employee.
Anyone, including employees of The Palace of Westminster, sitting MPs, Peers, constituency workers, casual workers, contractors, interns or visitors who sexually harasses another will be reprimanded in accordance with this internal policy.

[Although it can be difficult for the Palace of Westminster  to deal with sexual harassment when it is perpetrated by third parties, the Palace of Westminster is nonetheless responsible for the well-being of its workers if the harassment occurs during work. For example, where employees or interns are in contact with third parties, such as hotels or restaurants, should have specific policies to deal with sexual harassment of its workers by customers.]

All sexual harassment is prohibited whether it takes place within the Palace of Westminster premises or outside, including at social events, overseas trips, training sessions or conferences sponsored by individual political parties.

[Explanatory note: This recognises that harassment can take place both at the Palace of Westminster , but also at social event where sexual harassment may be more likely to occur.]

Complaints procedures



[Explanatory note: Individuals who deal with sexual harassment complaints should be trained specifically on this issue and on the nature of sexual harassment.

Further, victims of sexual harassment may want to resolve the matter in different ways. Some may be happy with an informal resolution and for the matter to stop, others may want more formal measures. In addition, informal resolution mechanisms may be inappropriate where the allegation is serious or where the harasser is also the victim’s supervisor and or employer. It is important that the Palace of Westminster complaints procedures reflect these different needs and ways of resolving conflict.]

Anyone who is subject to sexual harassment should, if possible, inform the alleged harasser that the conduct is unwanted and unwelcome. The Palace of Westminster recognises that sexual harassment may occur in unequal relationships (i.e. between an MP and his/her employee) and that it may not be possible for the victim to inform the alleged harasser.
If a victim cannot directly approach an alleged harasser, he/she can approach one of the designated staff members responsible for receiving complaints of sexual harassment. This person could be another supervisor, a member of the Parliamentary Standards, etc.

When a designated person receives a complaint of sexual harassment, he/she will:
 immediately record the dates, times and facts of the incident(s)
 ascertain the views of the victim as to what outcome he/she wants
 ensure that the victim understands the company’s procedures for dealing with the complaint
 discuss and agree the next steps: either informal or formal complaint, on the understanding
that choosing to resolve the matter informally does not preclude the victim from pursuing a
formal complaint if he/she is not satisfied with the outcome
 keep a confidential record of all discussions
 respect the choice of the victim
 ensure that the victim knows that they can lodge the complaint outside of thePalace of Westminster
through the relevant country/legal framework
[Explanatory note: It is important to give the victim options for reporting the matter and this will depend on the structure of the company. The need for options for reporting is very important because having one person only to report to limits the ability of the victim to avail themselves of the complaints procedure. If for example, the harasser is also the designated person, the designated person is away on leave, or the victim would rather report it to a woman than a man or to a man than a women and the designated person is a man, woman etc.]
Throughout the complaints procedure, a victim is entitled to be helped by a counsellor within the company. The Palace of Westminster will nominate a number of counsellors and provide them with special training to enable them to assist victims of sexual harassment. The Palace of Westminster recognises that because sexual harassment often occurs in unequal relationships within the workplace, victims often feel that they cannot come forward. The Palace of Westminster understands the need to support victims in making complaints.
[Explanatory note: In many large companies, certain employees are designated as counsellors to help victims of sexual harassment navigate the complaints procedures.]

Informal complaints mechanism

If the victim wishes to deal with the matter informally, the designated person will:
 give an opportunity to the alleged harasser to respond to the complaint  ensure that the alleged harasser understands the complaints mechanism, facilitate discussion between both parties to achieve an informal resolution which is acceptable to the complainant, or refer the matter to a designated mediator within the Palace of Westminster to resolve the matter

 ensure that a confidential record is kept of what happens
 follow up after the outcome of the complaints mechanism to ensure that the behaviour has
stopped
 ensure that the above is done speedily and within […] days of the complaint being made

Formal complaints mechanism

If the victim wants to make a formal complaint or if the informal complaint mechanism has not led to a satisfactory outcome for the victim, a formal complaint mechanism should be used to resolve the matter.
The designated person who initially received the complaint will refer the matter to a senior designated officer to instigate a formal investigation. The designated officer may deal with the matter him/herself, refer the matter to an internal or external investigator or refer it to a committee of three others in accordance with this policy.
The person carrying out the investigation will:
 interview the victim and the alleged harasser separately
 interview other relevant third parties separately
 decide whether or not the incident(s) of sexual harassment took place
 produce a report detailing the investigations, findings and any recommendations
 if the harassment took place, decide what the appropriate remedy for the victim is, in
consultation with the victim (i.e.- an apology, a change to working arrangements, a promotion if the victim was demoted as a result of the harassment, training for the harasser, discipline, suspension, dismissal)
 follow up to ensure that the recommendations are implemented, that the behaviour has stopped and that the victim is satisfied with the outcome
if it cannot determine that the harassment took place, he/she may still make recommendations to ensure proper functioning of the workplace
 keep a record of all actions taken
 ensure that the all records concerning the matter are kept confidential
 ensure that the process is done as quickly as possible and in any event within 7 days of the
complaint being made
[Explanatory note:  the Palace of Westminster will need to create specific complaints mechanism to meet it’s needs. For instance, if a committee is created to carry out the investigation, the committee should be set up bearing in mind gender-balance and could include a member of staff from the Palace of Westminster, a worker representative, etc. The Committee members, just as Palace of Westminster personnel or investigators dealing with sexual harassment, should be trained on understanding and deciding what constitutes sexual harassment, how to investigate it, etc.
It is also vital that the wishes and needs of the victim are incorporated into the outcome of the complaints mechanism. For example, if it is found that a victim was harassed by a colleague and that they work together on a daily basis, the views of the victim should be ascertained before making a decision on re-organising the office. For example, the victim may not want to be moved to a different department and as the victim, he/she should be entitled to decide this and not be re-victimised by being forced to move within the Palace of Westminster.]


Outside complaints mechanisms



A person who has been subject to sexual harassment can also make a complaint outside of the Palace of Westminster.
[Explanatory note: This section is intended to inform employees of their rights to use other national mechanisms that may be available to them. Some employees may not feel comfortable bringing a complaint through the disciplinary measures at work and they should be informed of their right to seek redress elsewhere. The internal policy of the Palace of Westminster cannot prevent an employee from also using the national mechanisms available to him or her.]


Sanctions and disciplinary measures

Anyone who has been found to have sexually harassed another person under the terms of this policy is liable to any of the following sanctions:

 verbal or written warning
 adverse performance evaluation  reduction in wages
 transfer
 demotion
 suspension
 dismissal (and a by election called if a Member)
The nature of the sanctions will depend on the gravity and extent of the harassment. Suitable deterrent sanctions will be applied to ensure that incidents of sexual harassment are not treated as trivial.

Certain serious cases, including physical violence, will result in the immediate dismissal of the harasser.
[Explanatory note: The policy should be applied consistently throughout the Palace of Westminster and sanctions should be based on the gravity of the conduct. Suitable deterrent sanctions should be included in workplace policies on sexual harassment to ensure that incidences of sexual harassment are not treated as trivial events. They should become part and parcel of Palace of Westminster regulations and/or collective labour agreements].


Implementation of this policy

Palace of Westminster will ensure that this policy is widely disseminated to all relevant persons. It will be included in the staff handbook. All new employees including Members must be trained on the content of this policy as part of their induction into the Palace of Westminster.

Every year, the Palace of Westminster will require all employees to attend a refresher training course on the content of this policy.
It is the responsibility of every Member to ensure that all his/her employees are aware of the policy.

Explanatory note: This creates an obligation on the Palace of Westminster to ensure that all employees are aware of the policy.]

Monitoring and evaluation

Palace of Westminster recognises the importance of monitoring this sexual harassment policy and will ensure that it anonymously collects statistics and data as to how it is used and whether or not it is effective.
Compliance officers and those responsible for dealing with sexual harassment cases will report on compliance with this policy, including the number of incidents, how they were dealt with, and any recommendations made. This will be done on a yearly basis. As a result of this report,  the Palace of Westminster will evaluate the effectiveness of this policy and make any changes needed.

[Explanatory note: Monitoring and evaluation can be done through different means, including questionnaires completed by employees, feedback from victims or those who work in the complaints procedure. This is important to review the effectiveness of the policy and the complaints procedure.]

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Report parliamentary sexual harassment? What a joke!

Mohammed Aroof sexually harassed women in the local MP’s constituency office by scratching his genitals & demanding oral sex

International Trade Minister Mark Garnier asked his Parliamentary Aide to buy two sex toys while he waited outside.

The fall out from the Harvey Weinstein scandal continues with further claims of harassment and sexual assault being made against him while over 300 women have also come forward to claim director James Toback sexually harassed or assaulted them.

On this side of the Pond, an intriguing story emerged of a group of women using a WhatsApp group to share stories of sexual harassment and bullying they have suffered at the hands of Members of Parliament (MP) and staff while working at the House of Commons (HoC). There was the usual uproar; the Prime Minster Theresa May even intervened and urged all victims of sexual harassment to report such incidents to the police.

Let me tell you Theresa, it won’t work. The police will send you away with a little pat on the head and a ‘it’s a civil/ employment matter, not a criminal one. Speak to a solicitor’ response. How many of us have the spare cash lying around to bring our abusers to justice? And it is precisely this helplessness and hopelessness that keeps our abusers safe and free to strike again and again.

Do the people in power not realise that it is nigh on impossible for anyone working for a MP (or Member as described in Parliamentary parlance) to complain about any harassment they have suffered? It is not just MPs whose inappropriate conduct should be addressed; the same rules should also apply to assembly members, devolved parliament members, MEPs, PCCs and anyone else working in politics.

It’s even harder to complain when you’re a member of a BAME community- the added risk of bringing the family honour into disrepute is a key factor why so many Asian women do not and will not ever speak out.

Even if you do manage to pick up the courage and complain about an MP or staff, who do you complaint to? What structures are in place for such incidents and what protection is available for those who do speak out? None whatsoever. There isn’t even a humble whistle blowing policy in place for staff and Members.

The Code of Conduct in place for MPs does not even make any reference to inappropriate and/ or sexual conduct.

The Code of Conduct in place for MPs does not even make any reference to inappropriate and/ or sexual conduct.

In fact, according to II: Scope of the Code

The Code applies to Members in all aspects of their public life. It does not seek to regulate what Members do in their purely private and personal lives.

So even if a Member is accused or caught out, he or she can claim their conduct falls under their ‘private and personal life’ and therefore not subject to scrutiny from any parliamentary regulations. This clause is grossly unfair because it allows Members a little known loophole to escape accountability for their conduct.

Although Rule 16 of the Code states: ‘Members shall never undertake any action which would cause significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons as a whole, or of its Members generally’ many Members can hide behind the usual ‘high jinks’, ‘banter’, ‘joking’ and ‘no harm intended’ excuses, further depowering their victims.

Victims are accused of being uptight, moody sour pusses who don’t know how to take a joke, adding insult to injury. Sending inappropriate texts and emails is another concern of women working at the HoC. Fear of being branded ‘overly-sensitive’ or a ‘drama queen’ means that it’s often easier to just ignore and delete, rather than kick up a fuss and then risk being outed as ‘difficult’ or ‘lacking a sense of humour’.

While writing this blog, I’ve been sent a link  to an article about International Trade Minister Mark Garnier allegedly calling an aide ‘sugar t*ts’ and asking her to buy him two vibrators while he waited outside the sex shop.

As a parliamentary aide who was asked to purchase underwear and sanitary towels for my former boss, I can tell you without doubt that you feel powerless to say no. It’s as though you’re constantly under obligation to your boss and it’s often easier to grit your teeth and comply. Buying a sex toy (or two) is simply unacceptable. If an accountant or an engineer did this, there would a clear cut case for sexual harassment and sex discrimination. So why are rules so different for MPs?

I don’t believe that anything will change because the structures that exist do not allow any Member to be held to account for their inappropriate actions. Even if you do complain and an investigation is triggered, this can take time and unless you’re suspended, you have to come into work and put up with the questions, the insinuations and the downright lies.

Furthermore, your complaint has to be in writing, with your name and address clearly identifying you. You cannot ask someone else to write it on your behalf so if you struggle to articulate what you’re concerned about, you have very little recourse. Some Parliamentary staff are incredibly loyal to their boss, to the extent that they will take it upon themselves to go after the victim in order to shut them down, malign their character or discredit their testimony. Even if the boss is aware, nothing is done to stop the harassing conduct- after all the Member gets what he wants without getting his hands dirty. In my own case, my former chief of staff Rob Hoveman spent the best part of 4 years harassing and intimidating me, to the extent that he obtained my personal documents including my HoC vetting form and gave them to the Guardian Newspaper. When I tried to complain, I was told to ‘write to my former boss’ to set out my concerns which included ‘a particularly unhealthy preoccupation with my private life, bordering on the fanatical’. Despite repeated emails, I was completely ignored. (*The full letter is reproduced below)

Rob Hoveman, my former chief of staff and senior Respect official, was obsessed with my sex life, and demanded to know how many ex partners I had had and who had fathered my son.

Other incidents I was subjected to also included being harassed for sex persistently by a senior work colleague, being flashed at twice by a Respect Party volunteer, being told to ‘suck on my (penis)’ by Mohammed Aroof, the brother of the main funder to the Party and also being subjected to a sexual assault by the Party’s solicitor Alias Yousaf (which the Metropolitan Police Service ignored despite me reporting it three times) I considered myself a strong, confident and outspoken  person and regularly spoke out and confronted these men; however, working in that toxic environment eroded my self confidence and sense of normality and left me on the edge of a nervous breakdown. It’s even harder to speak out when you simply don’t know how to.

The only option for victims of sexual harassment is to either put up with it, warn others covertly (as in the case of the secret WhatsApp group) or leave altogether. And even after you leave, you can’t speak out about it because of the need for a good reference (this is an issue for many other professions too, not just politics)

Many people don’t realise that working at the HoC is not like working anywhere else; you can’t be transferred to a different department until the matter is solved; you have to either stay in the same office (which is often one huge room with lots of desks), work from home or take paid leave until the matter is resolved. Due to the high profiles of some MPs and by association, their members of staff, there is a real risk of the matter drawing media attention which could result in family and friends finding out. This is a pertinent reason as to why people don’t want to speak out: once their name is in the press they are tainted or scarred for life; any prospective employer can google them and read an account of what happened, which can often be very one sided.

Many parliamentary employment contracts also have confidentiality clauses preventing    victims from speaking out even after they’ve left their employment.

A parliamentary aide who is currently in litigation with her boss found out that her role had been given to someone else via social media when her replacement described herself as the PA to the MP in question. Other people including constituents were also informed that this PA was difficult, lazy and sexually obsessed with her boss. She was further dismayed when she realised that IPSA had authorised monies so that her boss could hire top lawyers to fight her claim. So not only can Members behave inappropriately, they can get public monies from IPSA to fight any legal actions  brought by their victims. The PA has been fighting for justice for over a year and half now, and has no idea when it will end.

Another campaigner told me about a Peer who, while travelling in a taxi with her, insisted on placing his hands on her knee to ‘keep them warm’. His nickname amongst other female staff and campaigners was ‘octo-hands’.

An MP known for his womanising as well as his oratory skills, insisted his Parliamentary Aide keep her hair long, and nails painted a deep red because ‘as long as you look good, I look good’.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove‘s Harvey Weinstein joke of having escaped a good grilling with his ‘dignity intact’ on Saturday further demonstrates the rather blase attitude that MPs have towards sexual harassment. (Although Gove has since apologised, former Labour Leader Neil Kinnock, who was also present and described John Humphrey’s interviewing style as ‘way beyond groping’ still has not)

I expect a tidal wave of claims of inappropriate conduct from MPs and their staff in the coming days and weeks; I really hope that Teresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and other publically elected officials sit up and take note; sexual harassment is no laughing matter.
Maybe MPs can actually begin by changing the Code of Conduct for themselves so that they can be finally held accountable for their conduct?

Tags:

#Sexualharassment #Parliament #HouseofCommons #MPs #TheresaMay #MarkGarnier #MichaelGove #NeilKinnock

*Full letter of complaint re harassment inc the dissemination of my personal  documents by former chief of staff Rob Hoveman:

Official Complaint against Rob Hoveman
Keighley

West Yorkshire

16th July 2014

XXXXXXXX

House of Commons

London

SW1A 0AA
Dear Mr XXXXXXXX MP,

I would like to make an official complaint about the conduct of your Chief of Staff, Rob Hoveman.

It has come to my attention this week that Mr Hoveman has contacted the Guardian newspaper and provided the newspaper with extensive paperwork relating to my personal life. I find this conduct appalling and inexcusable. Over 18 months have passed now since I was last in the employment of Mr XXXXXXXX, yet this constant persecution and harassment by Mr Hoveman has not ended.

Mr Hoveman has also contacted the Sergeant at Arms and requested information from my vetting application form, which he then also passed onto the Guardian Newspaper. Mr Hoveman had no right whatsoever to this information or to request this information. Indeed, the sole aim of this course of action was to use the information to harass and intimidate me further.

Contacting the Sergeant at Arms to request my personal data is a direct breach of Data Protection laws and I have now reported this matter to the police.

Furthermore, Mr Hoveman presented false and highly damaging information to an ongoing employment tribunal matter, in which he made direct references to a Court of Appeal hearing that I attended. I have no idea how Mr Hoveman was able to gain access this private information, merely days after the hearing took place. Although the hearing was a matter of public record, the details are not in the public domain as yet.

Indeed, when I made contact with the Court of Appeal myself, I was told that I would need to quote a unique reference number in order to discuss the hearing. I suspect Mr Hoveman has managed to obtain this unique reference number, which seems to me to be the only logical explanation to explain how he managed to come into possession of such intimate information from the Court of Appeal hearing.

In conclusion, I feel Mr Hoveman is pursuing a personal vendetta against me, using both parliamentary resources and premises. His conduct is causing me to feel extremely harassed and vulnerable.

Mr Hoveman has shown a particularly unhealthy preoccupation with my private life, bordering on the fanatical, which frankly, I find threatening and menacing.
1. I want all my personal documents returned to me immediately and all copies destroyed. Further dissemination of my personal documents is to also stop immediately.

 

2. I want an urgent investigation into Mr Hoveman’s conduct and an immediate end to his continued harassment and persecution of me.

 

Please respond within 14 days.

 

Kind regards

 

Mrs Ali Khan

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How to survive the mother of all legal cases

Aisha Ali-Khan emerges victorious outside the High Court in 2016

Five years ago today, my life was turned upside down when I was sacked via a Facebook post posted on the wall of the Respect Party lawyer Alias Yousaf. I sued for libel and eventually settled out of court by accepting a public apology and damages.

I did not choose to enter into a five year litigation, and like the majority of us who are embroiled in some form of litigation, it was through necessity not through choice. Any type of litigation is bound to cause stress and anxiety, regardless whether you are represented or a litigant in person.

So today, I am sharing my top tips on how to survive if you ever find yourself in the same unfortunate position I was in five years ago.

1. Trust your gut instincts.

If you suspect that your work colleagues are plotting against you, chances are that they are. Sometimes the writing is on the wall a lot sooner than we realise, and others can see it long before we can. I have met so many people who say ‘we never saw it coming’ or we had no idea’ yet on further introspection, the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place. In my case, I began to suspect I was being followed and that my emails and texts were being read by my work colleagues in the run up to my suspension but had no solid proof until the Guardian newspaper contacted me to tell me that Ron Mckay, Media Spokesperson to my former employer, had forwarded a large cache of my personal emails to them.
Take second opinions from other professionals- just because you’re dealing with lawyers doesn’t mean that they can’t make mistakes- my first set of lawyers I used for my libel case did not plead my case properly, did not seek an injunction to prevent further harassment and included a very limited budget for costs which meant that I had to fight on as a litigant in person for nearly two years as other lawyers would not take my case on.

2. Plan & prepare

As soon as you suspect anything, start keeping a record, preferably away from your workplace and work colleagues. Write down anything you find unusual, suspicious or dodgy. It could be that you are being set up. I remember I was asked by one of my senior work colleagues to collect a donation of £7,000 in cash for Viva Palestina from the organisers of an event in Edinburgh. I refused. I know realise that this was an attempt to ensure that I too was complicit in the mismanagement and theft of charitable donations intended for Palestinians as the majority of my work colleagues were.
Sort out your finances immediately. Speak to your bank if you have a mortgage, and cancel any unnecessary direct debits/ standing orders. Your local law centres can give you free legal advice but you may have to be referred by the Citizen Advice Bureau. Also, check your home insurance for any legal cover clauses that can pay for your legal case/s. If you have secured pro bono legal advice ensure you check the small print of any contract.
After litigation has begun, take time out to do all the boring stuff like buying folders etc. Print off all emails and file them in chronological order as you get them. Keep any interaction with the opposition brief- even if they send you 60 page bullying essays like Rob Hoveman, my former chief of staff, did.
Voice record all meetings. You never know what the other party will let slip plus it’s always useful to keep a record in case the other party try to deny something as was the case when Hoveman asked me how many husbands I’d had and who the father of my son was. Thankfully I had a recording of him asking me even though he tried to deny it later.

3. Trust no one!
I cannot stress this enough. Be very careful who you speak to. Keep your circle of trusted people small- the world doesn’t need to know your every single move.
I know that you will be feeling emotional, lost, stressed and very unhappy and want to vent at the injustice you’re facing. However, if you’re fighting a large corporate business or a political party as I was, they will leave no stone unturned to get dirt on you and to shut down your efforts. In today’s day and age of social media, an adverse judgement can really damage a employer’s reputation.
One way of shutting you down is to starve you of your finances- if you can’t work you can’t pay your legal costs, hence you can’t pursue them.
Friends are important to help you keep a sense of perspective and sanity. But only the right ones. I actually lost a lot of friends when the scandal broke- many of whom had been taken in by the very convincing pattern of lies propagated by my former work colleagues and their supporters. I remember arguing with one friend on the phone while visiting my mum in hospital a few days after the FB post went up- my friend had been told that the police had given my former employer ‘DNA evidence’ of my wrongdoing and he had accepted that without question. ‘Yes of course’, I shouted while standing in the carpark, ‘the most logical thing for police officers investigating a break in to do is to go and strip the bedsheets and test for DNA’. It was very frustrating to see grown people refusing to use their own common sense and seeing the political witch hunt for what it was.
Credibility is very important and is what wins actual court cases so expect former friends, work colleagues and lovers to be contacted for any evidence of past indiscretions- the enemy of my enemy is my friend etc etc.
To this end, my former husband’s ex-wife was embroiled in the proceedings despite the fact that I had never ever met her, nor harassed, threatened or blackmailed her in any way.
I was also contacted numerous times by many posing as friends. The journalist Joseph Hayat contacted me a number of times posing as a concerned friend; it was much later on that I found out he had recorded our conversations without my consent and given them to Ron McKay and Helen Pidd of the Guardian newspaper.

I learnt the hard way; keep your family and friends close but keep your secrets buried.

4. Well-being is vital

Going through litigation is time consuming, emotionally draining and psychologically damaging and you need a lot of physical stamina to sustain you and keep you going. Make sure you surround yourself with positive and considerate people but also someone who you can rant to safely. I was very blessed that had a very good group of people around me who helped me take my mind off my situation. Of course, in the immediate aftermath, I lost a lot of people who I thought of as friends but I now see that as a blessing.
As the old age saying goes- ‘when litigation strikes, you find out who your true friends really are’.
Take care of your diet too; either over eating or restricting food will not help sustain you for the long haul. Try to keep comfort eating at bay- and see your doctor if you are struggling to sleep, concentrate or relax.
Please be aware that even after your litigation is over, you may still be suffering the after effects of going through a stressful situation- I was diagnosed with PTSD last year after I was given my public apology because of the long term sustained bullying and harassment I suffered throughout the length of my litigation by those involved with my former employer; from the little minions all the way to the top of the now defunct political party.
Take vitamins, massages, long walks; whatever it takes for you to relax and cope.

5. Future plans

Make sure you have an end goal in sight. For me it was very straight forward: public apology and damages. But I had to spend nearly 5 years battling before I got what I wanted. I understand that is a very long time and not everyone has the same appetite for the prolonged litigation as I was forced to endure.
The biggest cause for stress many people is the long delays that litigation in the UK normally entails- court dates are months apart and a typical court case could last years and be very expensive to boot. Having an exit strategy will help you cope and be prepared to negotiate a settlement that could save all parties a lot of time and effort.

I fought the mother of all legal battles and won. If I can do it then so can you. Keep strong and keep fighting!

Tags:

#AishaAli-Khan

#HighCourt

#Libel

#Litigation

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Harvey Weinstein: Why Women Don’t Tell

Image result for rose mcgowan charmed

Rose McGowan: One of the actresses who helped open the floodgates of sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein

So many women have come forward in the past seven days to reveal that they too had been groped, harassed or raped by Harvey Weinstein and day by day, the number is growing. In the past 24 hours alone, high profile and hugely successful actresses such as Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow have also come forward and told of their own experiences at the hands of Weinstein very early on in their careers. Weinstein’s wife has left him and he has now checked himself into a rehab facility for sex addition.

The most damning development of late has been the outing of Batman actor Ben Affleck for groping MTV host Hilarie Burton while a live TV interview was underway when she was just 19 to Affleck’s 29. The footage is as damning as it is deeply uncomfortable to watch.

Affleck has since issued an apology to Ms Burton ‘I acted inappropriately towards Ms Burton and I sincerely apologize’. Some would say that this is too little and 14 years too late but Affleck needs as much damage control considering he has a number of high profile movie releases coming out in the next few months.

Affleck is by no means the only man to have come forward to condemn Weinstein, others have also done the same including George Clooney, Seth Rogan, Mark Ruffalo and most recently Quentin Tarantino. But what is striking is that these men claim to have had no knowledge or even an inkling of what has going on right under their noses. Tarantino has issued a sort of holding statement claiming he is still trying to ‘process’ the series of lurid allegations. I find this deeply dubious. Tarantino dated Mira Sorvino, one of the actresses that have come forward to expose Weinstein. How could he have not known? 

There are many, many reasons why women won’t come forward about the sexual harassment they suffer in the workplace. Often they may delay and try to suppress their experiences, at times to great personal cost to health and mental well-being.

These women know that what has happened to them is wrong but accept that they are not in a position to speak out so try to move on with their lives the best they can. Just because they don’t speak out doesn’t mean their harassment and abuse didn’t happen. It just means that their attackers have more experience or bette resources to shut down any attempt at exposure. 

The perpetrator is nearly always in a position of power, authority or responsibility and has access to young, impressionable and naïve victims. However, in my own experience, the perpetrators often fall into two distinct camps; the charmer or the bully.

Charmers are friendly, personable and very accommodating so that if any kinds of allegations are ever made against them, others will find it difficult to believe that they are capable of these things. They specialise in the long game and will spend time identifying, grooming and manipulating their potential victims. That is not to say that charmers can’t be bullies; they can but they realise that it is often easier to get what they want with charm and sophistication than sheer bullishness.

Bullies are the opposite. They are often in positions of incredible power and have the clout to shut down any kind of opposition, investigation or rumour against them. They also don’t discriminate against who they want to abuse; everyone is fair game and fresh meat. They have the power to make or break a person; they know it and try to flaunt it at every opportunity.

This most definitely seems to be the case with Weinstein, who, having reached the pinnacles of success in Hollywood could now employ an army of lackeys to not only procure him fresh victims, but also to then cover up his attacks with money, professional success or career meltdown.

Indeed, some of the actresses that were the first to speak out about it all had had a very promising start in Hollywood for it then to have vanished into thin air. I remember watching Rose McGowan in Charmed and absolutely loved her character Paige. Then she disappeared and there were regular stories of her break downs and unstable mental health. Mira Sorvino, another actress who could and should have been one of the greats, also disappeared and has had a patchy career path since.

Of course, now it all makes sense.

For over twenty years, Weinstein got away with his unchecked reign of abuse because those around him enabled it in the first place, covered it up for him or turned a blind eye and pretended that it never happened. All of these people are also complicit and should be named and shamed.

Some of the women abused by Weinstein were struggling actresses or models who were looking for their big ‘break’ and Richard Hillgrove, founder of 6 Hillgrove Public Relations, claimed that Hollywood was a ‘surreal world’ and that sexual harassment was ‘par of the course for Hollywood’. These comments completely undermine the victims by essentially placing blame at their feet; ‘you know that if you want to make it big then you have to accept being groped, raped or harassed’. This kind of thinking is what has caused this type of behaviour to be normalised over the years when it should have been stamped out decades ago.

Watching all this unfold has been both cathartic but also detrimental. It has brought back a lot of traumatic and unpleasant memories for me of the time I was not only sexually harassed but also assaulted some five years ago. It also made me think of my position at the time, and how exposed I was in an isolated, lonely world as a deeply vulnerable person. My attacker was a senior lawyer for a political party who worked closely with the police, and hailed from a wealthy family who were termed ‘the money men’. The person who had sexually harassed me was also a member of this family. When I tried to bring everything to the attention of my colleagues, I was told in no uncertain terms that I could not ‘piss off the money men’. There was no way I could go to the police or raise a grievance without drawing a great big target above my head.

Since I started writing this blog, many women have come forward to tell me of their own experiences. Just today, a health professional told me she had been a victim of date rape some 20 years earlier but didn’t do anything because her attacker was a doctor. She also felt ashamed and responsible for what happened to her that night.

The fear of not being believed or then being blamed for the harassment is also one of the biggest reasons why women are too afraid to say anything. A former senior civil servant told me that she was regularly pestered for sex by her senior colleagues; when she tried to raise it with her HR department; she was advised to lengthen her skirts and not to dress so provocatively. Another woman was asked about her favourite sexual positions by a senior colleague; when she raised this with her line manager, she was sacked.

The abuse isn’t just within the four walls of the workplace. Just looking at a selection of the comments made after Affleck’s assault was reported on an online news platform show just how difficult it is for victims to come forward:

‘I would love to be groped by 2003 Ben Affleck’

‘Womans should not wear clothing wich is to be too tight’ (sic)

‘if this was such a HUGE transgression, worthy of remembering it for years, then you’ve had a pretty easy life! Pardon me, flower. I didn’t know you were so SENSITIVE!’

‘He (Affleck) apologized for that? Still doesn’t appear to be a grope. Whatever. This video must be very misleading’.

There are so many more reasons why women don’t tell. But perhaps now, we can listen, support and hear each other’s stories while we come to terms with our experiences.

Tags:

Harvey Weinstein, Rose McGowan, Hollywood, Sexual Harassment, Ben Affleck, Hilarie Burton, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Miramax

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Society of Asian Lawyers brands CSE campaigner’s comments ‘offensive’.

Image result for nazir afzal

Two articles appeared yesterday on the reactions to the ongoing issues around tackling Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in the UK; one which detailed the reactions of the womenfolk of the men who groomed and raped young girls and the second, the effectively no platforming of a prominent CSE campaigner by the Society of Asian Lawyers.

Both reactions were deep seated denials that there is even a problem with the fact that, of the recent prosecuted cases, a large majority of the defendants hail from a mainly Pakistani- heritage background.

Let’s start with the Society of Asian Lawyers withdrawing their invite as a keynote speaker to Nazir Afzal to their annual Society of Asian Lawyers Ball for his ‘offensive’ comments. These comments were made in August following the convictions of 17 men in a Newcastle sex grooming case and can be read here. (I will address the first article in a separate piece)

So what was so ‘offensive’ with the comments made by Afzal in his article (titled “Will my Asian community NOW end the vile misogyny behind the latest child sex gang scandal? No, too many think they still have to licence abuse”)

Nearly everything that Afzal mentioned has been repeatedly witnessed, by police officers, social workers, campaigners and the families of the victims. So why did the SAL take offence at Afzal’s comments?

Could it be because of the millions of pounds that the tax payer has had to pay towards the legal costs of defending the defendants in trials that end up costing the UK legal system not just millions in terms of money but also the time spent investigating these sensitive cases and the court time allocated to each trial?
If this doesn’t make sense, let me break it down for a little further.

In an average CSE case based on recent trials, the defendants will number around 4. The majority of these defendants will be eligible to receive legal aid from the Legal Aid Agency (LAA), thus resulting in potential windfalls for the law firms defending them.

The law firm will hire the most expensive counsel (barristers) available, often costing the public purse tens of thousands of pounds each. Multiply that by each defendant and you are already looking at £40,000 plus.

Put in another way, when each defendant hires separate counsel, the victims are subjected to further and more lengthier questioning, often the same questions repeated again and again.

If you add in additional costs such as travel, translation, and witness prep, the costs just get higher and higher, all eventually met by the public purse.

It is not often in the interest of the lawyers to suggest a guilty plea to their defendants even when there is solid evidence in the form of DNA evidence or CCTV footage because they would lose out on hundreds of thousands of pounds in the form of legal aid. Little to no consideration is given to the victims and how lengthy trials could impact their lives and their mental and emotional states.

Is it any wonder that victims have been so reluctant to come forward to report their ordeals?

You would think that an eventual guilty verdict at the end of a trial would mean that the whole matter can be put to rest.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Some lawyers will submit appeals against the verdicts for no other reason than it means more hours billed, hence more money from the LAA. In the case of Adil Khan, a defendant found guilty of CSE offences and impregnating a child under 16 in the Rochdale sex grooming case, his lawyer Mohammed Alias Yousaf (formerly of Chambers Solicitors, now partner at Liberty Solicitors) Bradford, submitted an appeal based upon tweets made by Nick Griffin, the former leader of the British National Party. DNA evidence of Khan’s criminality was obtained after the child rape victim underwent an abortion. (Incidentally, Yousaf himself was investigated after he admitted leaking the names of the child rape victims of the Rochdale sex grooming gang to a member of the public)

Khan, along with four others, was allowed further public funds for appealing against his deportation after his sentence was served.

So, to recap; the Society of Asian Lawyers are upset with Nazir Afzal for highlighting that fact the majority of the defendants in CSE cases are from a Pakistani-heritage background and that they are brought up in an environment of abject misogyny and sense of entitlement. Their response has been to withdraw an offer to speak as a keynote speaker at an annual Society of Asian Lawyers Ball.

So let me ask this burning question: 

Since when did protecting the feelings of paedophiles that preyed upon our vulnerable children and the money that goes into defending them become more important than highlighting and stopping the insidious and appalling CSE crimes?

 **Please note: the above scenarios I have described in terms of the conduct of law firms when defending defendants charged with CSE offences may apply to all law firms, not necessarily those who are members of the Society of Asian Lawyers. 

 

 

 

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