By a Newsnet reporter
Parliamentary reserachers and assistants are being forced into having sexual relationships with MPs, according to a senior Labour politician.
Speaking to Radio 4 investigative reporter Simon Cox, Labour MP John Mann has sensationally claimed he knows of at least one person who left politics “in tears” after being coerced into having a relationship with an MP.
The MP in question, said Mann, went on to “greater things” and is still today in “national politics”.
Simon Cox conducted a four month investigation into the Westminster parliament and found claims of attempted rape, physical assault and sexual intimidation involving MPs from all three main UK parties.
In his BBC report broadcast on Radio 4 last week, Mr Cox described a culture of intimidation, with researchers and interns too afraid to speak out. The reporter explained how over the months, his team contacted party interns, advisors and researchers from the past and present.
In his programme, The Report, Mr Cox told listeners: “Slowly over the next few weeks and months, a picture began to emerge”
One former researcher described how she was “jumped” by an unnamed party colleague who she managed to “fight off”. She said of Westminster: “This is a man’s world, and to be at the top table or even near it, I’ve always felt I needed to roll with the punches.”
The BBC reporter described having been told of young female researchers being fondled and groped by MPs. The problem, according to Mr Cox, was not restricted to one party but existed in Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem parties.
Another victim told how he had been physically assualted by three MPs and had experienced suggestive comments from around five others.
“This is very much a cross party consensus. No one party has a monopoly on this. I’ve experienced it from all three Westminster parties” he told the BBC reporter.
He added: “I would say that more than half of my male friends have experienced this kind of thing.”
Another female researcher described the atmosphere in Westminster as “sleezy and predatory”.
According to the programme, victims felt they were powerless to complain about harrassment from MPs who they felt “had the power to make or break” their careers.
Asked who they could turn to if they had a problem with an MP, one replied: “Most staff that I know have had horrible exeriences with MPs who are employing them, their main aim is just to get out of there as soon as possible,”
He added: “Most people who get a job in parliament will move to another MP in Parlaiment. The first thing the MP they are applying for a job with will do, is speak personally to the other employer, … if they do anything that rocks the boat then they won’t get another job.”
Reporter Cox declined to name the MPs in question, explaining to do so would identify the victims who the BBC man said didn’t want that to happen because “they are scared” it would harm their reputations and careers.
In the five years he has worked on similar investigative programmes, Cox said he had never come across so many people so reluctant to talk about their experiences.
The trade union Unite, which operates in the House of Commons, confirmed they were regularly contacted by staff who had experienced sexual harrassment but who did not want to take it further for a variety of reasons.
A spokeswoman for the trade union described many of the researchers as “very, very young”. For many, said Lucille Harvey, this is their first ever job and they have difficulty in working out what is and isn’t acceptable workplace behaviour.
“If this is your first job, you have nothing to compare it to,”
The BBC reporter said it was near impossible to find an MP would go on the record when he requested an interview. One veteran Labour MP told the BBC man he pitied any MP who would speak to the BBC reporter.
Only Labour’s John Mann would speak, and in a sensational statement he told the Cox that it was “impossible to say and to quantify the scale of the problem” but insisted, “without question, it is a significant problem … it has ruined people’s lives”.
“This is people being coerced into sexual relationships by people using their power position,” he added. “There are people in here whose names would be rightfully held in shame and disgrace from their behaviour … the shame is they have not been named and the public doesn’t know them for what they are really like.”
The Labour MP claimed other people in the party knew who the MPs were. “This is not ‘hand on the knee’ stuff we are talking about” Mann told the programme, “I’m talking about something much bigger, much more insidious, much more life destroying than that.”
Asked if it was about people being pressurised into having sex with their MP, Mann replied: “Yes it is”.
Cox also revealed a parliamentary system that is set up to help MPs who have issues with staff members, but not the other way around.
The reporter also claimed the issue was not restricted to the House of Commons but had also reached constituency offices.
One alleged victim worked for a female candidate elected in 2010, but who described being subjected to inappropriate “outrageous” sexual advances from a male party colleague. ‘Jenny’ said she demanded the “influential figure” stop, but he carried on.
Approaching the female candidate to ask for help, she was told by by the candidate “you just have to put up with it”. The man continued to harass the young woman, offering her money to become his mistress.
She eventually left politics as a result.