#MeToo High Rates of Sexual Crime in Europe's Parliaments

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) recently conducted a study to determine the presence and levels of sexism, abuse, and violence among female members of Europe’s parliaments.  The results showed that sexual misconduct is commonplace within the parliaments, which demonstrates that the #MeToo movement is also part of politics as it surpasses the entertainment industry and common workplace.  Eighty-five percent of women members of parliament (MP) have experienced some form of violence, those under the age of 40 are more at risk for the violence, the female parliamentary staff experiences more harassment than the MPs, and the majority of the parliaments do not have outlets for the women to have a voice against these crimes.  This study is groundbreaking in that it is the initial study of IPU regional studies to expose the existence of female sexism, harassment and violence in parliaments.

IPU and PACE conducted 123 interviews with women from 45 European countries—81 were MPs and 42 were from the parliamentary staff.  The results showed that 47 percent of women had received threats of death, rape or beating; 68 percent had been the target of sexist comments relating to their physical appearance and gender role stereotypes; and 25 percent had endured sexual violence.  And much of this violent and threatening behavior took place through social media with 58 percent of women reporting that they had been victim to sexist attacks online.  Furthermore, age is another factor.  The younger the women, the more prone they are to sexual violence and discrimination.  Of the women MPs interviewed under 40, 76 percent had experienced degrading treatment and abuse in the media and on social media (18 percent more than all women MPs surveyed); and 36 percent had been sexually harassed (12 percent more than all women MPs surveyed). Those committing the acts were political opponents, colleagues from the women’s own party, or ordinary citizens.  

However, the statistics of the female parliamentary staff are even more devastating.  Among the women interviewed from the parliamentary staff, 40.5 percent faced acts of sexual violence in the workplace (compared to 25 percent for female MPs).  These results show that power relations may also be a factor in terms of who is more vulnerable to these acts.  

PACE president Liliane Maury Pasquier found the findings of the study saddening.  She stated that the “#MeToo movement has not spared politics.”  Sexual violence, harassment, abuse, and discrimination is unfortunately everywhere—even in the political realm.  The European Parliaments have not been free of this kind of behavior, but studies like this are bringing more awareness to the serious issue and are stepping stones for change and improvement.  

By Shirin Mahdavi

17 October 2018 10:32