I don’t know what it is about the air, that energy you can sense, a gentle current moving over your skin, when you know something big is about to happen. A sixth sense in the back of your mind that this is no ordinary grey sky in London. This is exceptional. My life is about to change forever.
That is how I felt the day the police came to tell me there would be no trial, that the man who raped me would get off without ever having to stand in front of a judge or jury, and that the two years I’d waited to give my testimony had been in vain.
The detectives sat on my couch, coats still on. The words fell from their mouths like a deck of cards, each one a joker.
“There isn’t going to be a trial,” they said.
I was the one still carrying the shame, the isolation, and now the burning injustice. He would walk free, with nothing against his name.
I was the punchline, and he was laughing. I was the one still carrying a dead weight with me everywhere I went: the shame, the isolation, and now the burning injustice of having no burial to move on from. He would walk free, with nothing against his name.
There were many things I could have done with that dead weight. Let it sink me, was one. At times, I was so willing to let it pull me under, to drown under the pressure of it all. I could have tried to run away from it, though I fear it would have followed me everywhere I went. So I tried to do something with it, that energy I had bubbling under the surface. I tried to use it to make a change.
Since that day, I’ve campaigned for justice for survivors like myself, the one in five women in this country who are sexually assaulted, the 98.3% whose reported attacks fail to result in a charge.
I have been an ambassador for Solace Women’s Aid, the rape crisis centre whose services I once used. I’ve led on press and messaging for IC Change, the campaign to get the UK government to ratify the Istanbul Convention – the gold standard in protection for women and girls against male violence. We took a private member’s bill through parliament which paved the way for bills like the long-awaited Domestic Abuse Bill to be made a priority.
I’ve sat on policy committees and steering groups and, as a journalist and editor, advised IPSO on how to better report on violence against women and girls to dispel some of the societal myths that prevent so many of us from accessing the justice we desperately need and deserve.
Joining the Women’s Equality Party (WEP), for me, was the next logical step. WE is the only party that puts ending violence against women and girls front and centre of our policies – something all major parties are guilty of failing to prioritise.
What better place to start than in Westminster itself, where one in five people report that they have been the victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, and where not a single MP has ever been deselected or recalled from parliament over allegations of violence against women.
Alongside four other survivors contesting different seats, I will stand for election against a man who has faced accusations of violence but has been allowed to stand again in his constituency despite the potential risk posed to vulnerable members of the public and to Westminster staff.
Allowing men accused of assault or harassment to hold an elected position sends a dangerous message: that violence is inevitable, that assault and harassment against women and girls doesn’t matter, and that men in power will always get away with it. We believe this is wrong, so we are standing to hold these men to account at the ballot box.
I will be standing in City of London and Westminster against Conservative MP Mark Field, who was caught on camera grabbing a peaceful protestor by the neck at a dinner event. Theresa May suspended him but new Prime Minister Boris Johnson, faced with a dwindling majority, dropped an investigation into Field’s behaviour because it was politically expedient for him to do so.
Field has been allowed to vote on legislation that impacts the protection afforded to women and girls, including the Gemma White Report into complaints of assault and harassment made by staff in Westminster. He has also been allowed to vote on issues like a no-deal Brexit which will harm women further still.
Allowing men accused of assault or harassment to hold an elected position sends a dangerous message: that violence is inevitable, that assault and harassment against women and girls doesn’t matter.
I have already started negotiations with the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party who are also contesting Field’s seat in Westminster. If they accept WEP’s red line policies, I will stand down and use the very active membership we have in London to help them campaign and win.
Firstly, we want the Recall Act 2015 to be amended so that if an MP is found guilty by an independent body of assault or harassment, their constituents have the right to sack them and choose someone else.
We also want parties to commit to the better funding of domestic violence and rape services.
Mostly though, we want Field and those like him removed from positions of power if they are violent or abusive. If we are ever to tackle the crisis that has seen 173 women killed at the hands of their partners over the last year, and more than 85,000 women raped, we must have a zero tolerance approach to violence – and that must start in Westminster.
All we ask of you is that you share this message, consider our position and stand with us, side by side, to grant those who have suffered from male violence the justice they so desperately deserve.
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