Female politicians speak out about sexual assault experiences

Caroline Davies
Labour MP Mary Creagh said she had been attacked when seven years old. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Female politicians have shared their experiences of sexual assault and harassment to encourage other victims to speak out.

The Labour MPs Jess Phillips and Mary Creagh and Conservatives Theresa Villiers and Anne Jenkin have spoken of having been assaulted or subjected to unwanted advances.

The four revealed details in solidarity with others in the #MeToo movement in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

Phillips, who chairs the women’s parliamentary Labour party, said she was attacked by one boss while in her 20s, before she became an MP. She woke up on a sofa at a party to find him “undoing my belt and trying to get into my trousers”.

“I was absolutely paralysed with fear,” the Evening Standard reported her saying. “He was loads older than me – maybe 25 years older.” He was dragged off by someone else, and she was back at work the next day.

“For most women you can look back and say: ‘I wish I had told the police,’ but knowing what I know in working in sexual violence services I doubt they would have been able to do something,” said Phillips.

She had also been sexually assaulted in a bar in France when she was 19 or 20, when a man grabbed her, put her against a wall and felt her vagina. As a schoolgirl, she and friends were regularly targeted by a man who masturbated in front of them on their way to school. He was reported to police, though she did not know if he had been caught.

Phillips said she was speaking out for the sake of women “who don’t have power to”.

Creagh said she had been attacked in the playground, aged seven. “I had my underwear torn off during a game of kiss chase and was sexually assaulted by about 12 boys. They were older than me, about 10 or 11 years old.” She also had her bottom pinched when she was 16 by her parish priest, who was later jailed for assaulting others.

She recalled a teacher, giving her a lift home, tried to kiss her and then semi-apologised. “I then had to go to school and be taught by him,” Creagh said. She reported him to the headteacher four years later when she feared another pupil might be at risk from him.

Villiers said she had never been the victim of serious harassment, but in the late 90s, at a function as a candidate for the European elections, she had to “fend off some groping hands from one of the event organisers”.

Lady Jenkin, the founder of the Tory Women2Win campaign to boost the number of female MPs representing the party, said that she had been harassed as a 22-year-old secretary at an almost all-male parliament in the mid-70s.

“I was with an MP once in a car and he was trying to stroke my neck,” Jenkin said. “I was swerving all over the road. Men used to hit on you all the time. They would say: ‘I had a dream about you last night’ … these things affect people differently. I haven’t thought about it for 40 years. I’m not upset about it. I just hope it’s not common today.”

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