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Sexual Harassment Complainant Guidance

The Labour Party’s Sexual Harassment Policy and Procedure – Guide for complainants

The Labour Party has a new Sexual Harassment Policy and Procedure.  This guide is designed to help anyone who feels they have suffered or witnessed sexual harassment in a Labour Party context understand how the procedure works. It also explains how to access assistance and support, and how to ask questions about the new process.

This guide contains a comprehensive explanation of the procedure, but you can also read the Sexual Harassment Policy and Procedure document itself.


Sexual harassment and the Labour Party

The Labour Party strives to provide a safe space for people to engage in campaigning and other political activity. The Party has a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment and will take all complaints of this nature extremely seriously.  If you experience any behaviour that you feel amounts to sexual harassment towards yourself or anyone else, you are strongly encouraged to:

  • Report it to us using the dedicated sexual harassment complaints portal. The contact details for the portal are:

or

  • If you are unsure what to do, get advice and support from the free advice service operated by the independent charity, the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre, on 020 8683 3311. They can explain the options and can support you through the Party’s complaints process if you decide to use it. This service is available to people who have experienced any kind of sexual harassment within the Party – not just sexual violence or abuse.  If you decide to make a complaint, you can continue to use the advice service throughout the process – not just at the beginning.

We realise there are good reasons why people may be reluctant to report incidents of sexual harassment immediately, but we encourage you to get in touch with the portal, or the advice service, as soon as you feel able to do so.

The Labour Party sexual harassment complaints portal is operated by experienced members of the Party’s HQ complaints team.  Constituency Labour Parties, Regional Offices and other Party units cannot investigate sexual harassment cases.  They have been advised to point anyone who approaches them with a sexual harassment complaint to the free advice service and the sexual harassment complaints portal.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. It takes place when someone is subjected to unwelcome and unwanted sexual behaviour or other conduct related to their gender. The NEC has adopted a Code of Conduct: Sexual Harassment. This explains the kinds of behaviour likely to be regarded as sexual harassment.  Under the Equality Act 2010 and the Code of Conduct, behaviour that constitutes sexual harassment includes:

  • Unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature. This may be either physical or verbal.
  • Inappropriate or suggestive remarks or verbal sexual advances.
  • Indecent comments, jokes or innuendos relating to a person’s looks or private life.
  • Unwanted physical contact such as hugging, kissing or inappropriate touching.
  • Requests for sexual favours.
  • The display or circulation of pornography or indecent images.

The Labour Party recognises that sexual harassment can be experienced alongside other forms of harassment, and that black women, disabled women, lesbian, bisexual and trans women can be specifically targeted for sexual harassment. All are included and covered by this procedure.

Some of this behaviour may involve sexual violence or abuse amounting to a crime.  At the other end of the spectrum, the behaviour may offend the person concerned or make them feel uncomfortable.  All types of sexual misconduct, across the whole range, are covered by the Labour Party’s procedures, including the free external advice service.

Overview of the procedure

The Labour Party’s procedures are designed to determine whether a member has behaved contrary to the rules about conduct, and if so to ensure that appropriate steps are taken against that member – which can include expulsion from the Party.  The process is designed to operate confidentially and in a way that ensures fair treatment of everyone involved.  The rules apply equally to every member – whether they are a young person who has just joined the Party, or an experienced member who is an MP or other public figure.

We understand that reporting sexual harassment can be intimidating, so we aim to make the process as clear and straightforward as possible.  At no point in the procedure do you and alleged perpetrator confront each other face-to-face.  The steps in the process are:

  • Initial advice and reporting: you can either contact the advice line or report the matter directly via the sexual harassment portal (the advice line is available at any stage of the process, even if you report the matter directly first).
  • Investigation: If you decide to make a formal complaint, an independent person takes a statement from you and advises us on what other steps should be taken to gather information about what happened.
  • Decision whether to take further action: Once the information has been gathered, a panel of specially trained members of the National Executive Committee (NEC) Disputes Panel decides whether there is a case for referring disciplinary charges against the member to the National Constitutional Committee (NCC).
  • Formal disciplinary charges: If the disciplinary charges are referred to the NCC, they are determined by a trained panel of NCC members, usually after a hearing. You and the alleged perpetrator are kept separate at the hearing, and any questions either wishes to ask the other is put through the panel, not directly.

Initial advice and reporting

If you are unsure whether to report the matter via the portal, do contact the external advice service.  You can still use the service even if you make contact with the Party first. The staff operating the portal will make that clear.

If you decide to report the matter via the portal, we will only treat it as a formal complaint if you make it clear that this is the route you would like to take.  We want you to feel confident about using the complaints process, but we will never press you to take action you do not feel comfortable with.

If the information you give us indicates that a criminal offence may have taken place, we will remind you of your right to report the incident to the police. The Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre can give you advice about contact with the police and criminal justice system. If we have serious concerns about your safety or that of others, then under the Party’s safeguarding policies (which are designed to protect children and “at risk” adults) we may have a duty to contact the police or other authorities ourselves. Any disclosure we make to the authorities will not reveal the identity of an adult complainant of full capacity without their agreement, except in rare cases where we believe that they, or another adult or child, may be at risk of serious or significant harm.  In those circumstances we will make every effort to explain the reasons for the disclosure before making it.

If the complaint is subject to an ongoing police inquiry, we will not start our own investigation until the police investigation, and any resulting criminal proceedings, have finished (but where appropriate we may suspend the alleged perpetrator from the Party in the meantime).

Investigation

Once you have made a formal complaint, an independent investigator – who is not a Party staff member or office-holder – will arrange to speak to you to get your description of what happened and details of any witnesses.

In the light of that information, the investigator will produce a statement you to sign, and will advise the Head of Complaints (the senior staff member with special responsibility for sexual harassment cases) on what subsequent steps should be taken to gather information, such as interviewing any witnesses.  Those subsequent steps will usually be taken by members of the Complaints or Disputes teams under the supervision of the Head of Complaints, with the independent investigator continuing to give advice.

The information obtained, including your statement or extracts from it, will be put to the person you are complaining about (the “respondent”), who will also be asked to describe what happened. It may then be necessary to take further steps such as interviewing additional witnesses and asking you for further information.

We will deal with all personal information relating to the complaint in the strictest confidence, and we will insist that you, the respondent and anyone else involved (such as witnesses) do the same.

When you make a complaint, we will give you an estimate of how long we expect the investigation to take, and will do our best to give an update if that changes.

You can continue to get advice and support from the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre while the investigation is underway.

Sexual Harassment Panel decision

Once all the necessary information has been gathered, the independent investigator will review the material and provide a reasoned assessment.  That will form the basis of a report to the Sexual Harassment Panel.  The panel consists of three to five members of the NEC who have received appropriate training.  An independent legal adviser will attend all panel meetings.

The report, statements and other material given to the panel will be anonymised so that the members will not know your identity or that of anyone else involved.

The panel will decide whether there is a case to answer, and if so whether to refer disciplinary charges to the NCC or to take some other action.  Where it appears there may be a case to answer, but that depends on conflicting accounts of events which can only be properly determined by oral evidence, the panel should refer the case to the NCC.

Where possible we will notify you personally of the decision.  You will also receive a copy of the record of the decision, which will include a brief explanation of the panel’s reasons for its conclusion.

The Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre can give you advice and support in relation to the panel’s decision.

Disciplinary charges

Charges presented to the NCC are dealt with in accordance with the NCC Procedural Guidelines, which include a specially modified hearing procedure for sexual harassment cases.

The charges are presented to a panel of three NCC members, through a representative on behalf of the NEC. The respondent will also usually have a representative.  The respondent’s and NEC’s representatives are not allowed to put direct questions to you or the respondent respectively.  Any questions must be asked through the NCC panel.  The NEC representative does not act on your behalf: their role is to give the NCC a fair and objective account of the evidence.  However, you can continue to seek advice and support from the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre, and all Party staff involved in NCC proceedings will do their best to make sure you are treated supportively and sensitively.

The Party tries to resolve cases as quickly as possible, but some time can pass between the Sexual Harassment Panel decision to refer charges and an NCC hearing.  The Party’s Disputes Team will give you periodic updates on the progress of the case.

Third party complaints

The Party’s procedure is geared to cases where the complaint is made by the person at whom the behaviour was directed.  If you are, for example, a friend of the person who experienced the incident or you witnessed it, we still want to hear from you.  But we may find it difficult to investigate the matter further unless the person who has experienced the incident engages in the process.  We realise there are good reasons why people who suffer sexual harassment may be reluctant to come forward, and we are developing guidelines on how best to deal with this situation. But it is still important that you report the incident to us.  Among other things, there may be safeguarding implications towards children or “at risk” adults that we need to know about.

Transitional arrangements and review

The new procedures apply to any complaint of sexual harassment received by the Party on or after 25 February 2019.  If you made a complaint before that date, we will normally continue with the current stage of the investigation under the former procedure. When we reach the next stage, the new procedure will apply from then on.

The NEC has decided to keep the new procedure under review, and will examine it again during the second half of 2019.  We would welcome any feedback you have on the process.

Any questions?

If you have any questions about the Labour Party’s approach to sexual harassment or about this procedure, or wish to give us feedback, please contact our specialist team via the Sexual Harassment Portal using the e-mail address or phone number above.  They will be pleased to help.  If you are not sure that you want to discuss your query with a Labour Party staff member, you are welcome to contact the independent advice service.

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