Chris Pincher scandal is green light to sexual predators, say survivors
‘We watch the government's response to Chris Pincher and all we see is the misogynistic “old boys network” at work’
Survivors of sexual violence have hit out at Boris Johnson’s government for creating a ‘boys club’ culture of misogyny and impunity, after allegedly ignoring numerous allegations of sexual misconduct by former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher.
“How are we supposed to trust the government to help everyday survivors if they don't take it seriously when sexual violence happens in their own backyard?” said Neil*, who has been subjected to sexual violence himself and now works with Survivors UK, a group that supports men with similar experiences.
Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip last week after allegations that he groped two men while drinking at the Carlton Club in central London, a private members’ club frequented by Tory politicians and supporters.
Since then, it has emerged that Boris Johnson knew about previous sexual misconduct allegations against Pincher when he promoted the MP in February. Today, a top civil servant claimed in an explosive letter that the prime minister was briefed “in person” after the allegations were investigated and upheld.
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Renowned journalist and feminist Mona Eltahawy told openDemocracy: “When sexual violence is so common at the highest levels of politics and goes largely without accountability, the government – the state and its most powerful representatives – send a very clear message, a green light, that the bodies of women and queer people are fair game…
“It is a green light to sexual predators that they too can sexually assault us with impunity.”
Eltahawy survived a brutal sexual assault at the hands of riot police during the Egyptian revolution in 2011.
The prime minister’s former aide Dominic Cummings claimed that Johnson had referred to the disgraced MP as “handsy” and joked about him being “Pincher by name, pincher by nature”. It is the sixth sexual misconduct scandal involving an MP in Johnson's government.
One of Pincher’s Carlton Club accusers reported that Sarah Dines, a Tory whip who was present at the club and who he spoke to at the time, asked him if he was gay. “For someone to say that the sexuality of a victim changes things is just vile. Sexuality does not change consent,” Neil said.
It’s a green light to sexual predators that they too can sexually assault us with impunity
Amina*, another survivor of sexual violence, who belongs to the group Women Against Rape (WAR), told openDemocracy: “It’s outrageous Johnson gave Pincher that job, knowing the complaint from 2019…
“They think they can get away with everything, a law unto themselves.”
Sophia*, also a member of WAR, echoes these thoughts: “Johnson’s lies, racism and cronyism have spread throughout society. This government personifies injustice and corruption.”
She argues that the government has effectively decriminalised rape, under the radar, with prosecutions having dropped to the lowest since records began – despite an increase in reporting.
Reanna*, another sexual abuse survivor from WAR, says people like her have heard “the same message for years: women and girls and anyone abused don’t matter” – even though “the #MeToo movement spelled out abuse in every workplace.”
The treatment of sexual violence survivors echoes that of asylum seekers in this country, Reanna says: they are not believed, not taken seriously and not cared for.
Abuse of power
“We watch the government's response to the Chris Pincher episode and all we see is the misogynistic 'old boys’ network' at work,” said Ngozi Fulani, CEO and founder of Sistah Space, a community-based domestic violence service for African women and girls.
“We can't feign surprise – it has always been clear that being white, male and of a particular class means that you can do whatever you want and will not be held accountable… unless there is a big enough public outcry,” Fulani added.
Deniz Uğur, deputy director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, points out: “The government continues to insist that tackling violence against women is a top priority, but we’re seeing a series of MPs face sexual assault and misconduct allegations, which indicates otherwise.”
She adds that because politicians determine policy on women’s equality, criminal justice and public services in relation to sexual violence, it is “critical that they set a positive example” and are held to the highest standards of transparency and accountability.
It’s always been clear that being white, male and of a particular class means that you can do whatever you want and will not be held accountable
Janey Starling, co-director of feminist campaign group Level Up, said: “Harassment and violence, in any form, is about power and control. We know that spaces where there are powerful individuals – like Parliament, or the film industry – tend to be places where abuse of power is rife.
“Everyone should feel safe and respected at work, and when an individual violates that safety in the workplace, they should meet consequences. In any [normal] workplace, actions like this would be a sackable offence, but as we see time and time again, power protects power, and powerful men protect each other.”
Starling says justice would involve a total transformation of the cultures that uphold abuses of power. She believes this is possible “if politicians are willing to confront a culture of abuse and impunity that thrives at the heart of Westminster.”
But, she adds: “The response to the Chris Pincher case doesn't give me much hope of that.”
* Names have been changed
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