A group of sex assault and domestic abuse survivors have decided to stand for election in constituencies of five male MPs accused of misconduct.
Two of the MPs – Mark Field and Kelvin Hopkins – have already said they will not stand, with the Women’s Equality Party vowing to draw attention to abuse against women by targeting the three remaining MPs, Jared O’Mara, Charlie Elphicke and Ivan Lewis. Mr Hopkins, Mr Elphicke and Mr Lewis deny any wrongdoing.
Labelling abuse an ‘epidemic’ that has ‘got to stop’ the WEP leader Mandu Reid took aim at the five MPs ahead of the December 12 general election.
Speaking exclusively to Metro.co.uk, Ms Reid explained: ‘The focus of our campaign is to address the epidemic of violence, sexual assault and harassment in this country. This abuse is particularly rife in Westminster.
‘To tackle that we have to go to the heart of power. We have picked these five [seats] because those MPs have allegations against them… to make the point that this is not acceptable.’
High profile accusations of either sexual assault, violence against women or sexual harassment have made been made against the MPs.
Rape survivor Jenn Selby will stand in Mr Field’s Cities of London and Westminster constituency and gang rape survivor Serena Laidley in Mr Hopkins’ Luton North seat.
Domestic abuse survivor Gemma Evans will run against Mr Lewis in Bury South, while domestic violence survivor Eljai Morais will run against Dover’s Mr Elphicke, who is due to stand trial next year.
Another candidate – who Ms Reid hinted could be well known – is yet to be announced in Sheffield Hallam, where Mr O’Mara is the current MP.
The issue of sexual abuse came to prominence with the #MeToo campaign, which highlighted the alleged scale of violence, assault and harassment that women face.
Interim leader Ms Reid said her party could contest more seats in reaction to similar allegations coming to light during the campaign – but said she would not stand herself.
She labelled the four current candidates ‘extraordinary women that would be fantastic MPs’.
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But, she admitted the quartet are unlikely to be elected, suggesting that the real aim was to draw attention to the issues, ‘make sure women’s voices are heard’ and ‘apply pressure to the other parties’.
She added that the WEP is ‘open’ to negotiations with rival parties and would consider standing down if certain ‘red lines’ are met.
Those red lines include adding abuse to the Recall of MPs Act; investing in ‘decimated’ services for women and girls who have faced violence; and a commitment to making childcare free for all.
She added that there had been dialogue between Lib Dem MP Chuka Umunna and fellow candidate Miss Selby, who are standing in the same constituency.
The party – which Ms Reid became interim leader of in April, ahead of a delayed leadership election next year – backs equality for all and ending violence towards women.
Ms Reid also addressed the issue of ‘appalling’ abuse against female MPs, which has been linked to 18 relatively young women standing down.
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She said: ‘It saddens me but it doesn’t surprise me. Politics has become an increasingly hostile environment, particularly for women. They are on the receiving end of horrendous abuse.’
Suggesting parliament will be ‘less effective’ as a result, she continued: ‘The (male MPs standing down) have had much longer careers, (they) are standing down on their own terms and the women are being hounded out.
‘We need women around the table. Everybody knows diverse teams make better decisions – it will mean decisions get made that overlook women and girls.’
Conservative Mr Elphicke denies three charges of sexual assault.
Fellow Tory Mr Field apologised after grabbing a female Greenpeace protester by the neck and manhandling her at a London dinner.
Neither responded to a request for comment.
Mr Lewis, Mr O’Mara and Mr Hopkins are all facing sexual harassment claims and were suspended from the Labour party.
Mr O’Mara, who has also apologised for making misogynistic comments, admitted to sending messages to a female member of staff but said many were jokes and not of a sexual nature, The Times reported.
It is unclear if he is standing for re-election and he did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr Hopkins, who declined to comment – and Mr Lewis – who did not respond to a request for comment – deny sexual harassment.
The feminist WEP stood seven candidates in 2017, two years after it was founded, but all lost their deposits.
The Survivors Trust defines ‘sexual violence and abuse’ as ‘any behaviour of a sexual nature which is unwanted and takes place without consent or understanding. This includes rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, childhood sexual abuse, female genital mutilation and more.’
The charity says its long-term effects ‘can include many emotional, psychological and physical conditions. The experience of sexual assault or abuse at any age and whether male or female can have devastating effects on every aspect of a person’s being and life – on their mind, their body, their behaviour, thoughts and feelings.’