Regrets

13 Nov

I’ve been thinking a lot about the issue of sexual harassment of late.  In truth I’ve thought about it for a number of years but the Harvey Weinstein story was what really focused my mind.  My thoughts were centred on my own time in politics having worked for Plaid Cymru in various guises between 2005-2011.  It was somewhat timely then that this subject inevitably started becoming an issue that engulfed that world, both at Westminster and in Cardiff Bay.  The notion that it is confined to those national institutions by the way is extremely naïve and I am sure women across all tiers of all industries in Wales will have experiences they have for too long considered simply part and parcel of their working lives.

I never saw directly any incidents of sexual harassment while working in politics. I’d like to believe I’d have stepped in immediately if so. Also, no incidents were reported to me while in a position of responsibility to act, towards the end of my career at the Assembly. However, I carry a lot of guilt hearing the flood of accusations and experiences that have been voiced in the past few weeks and months. I regret that I was not more proactive in recognising the culture that existed.  I regret that when in more junior positions and hearing of the rumours and experiences of others that I wasn’t confident enough take a more authoritative approach to responding to the things I was told or heard.  I regret that I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to have been more supportive.  I also regret that when in a senior position I should have done more to make myself accessible to complainants.  I question if there were women feeling intimidated, violated and harassed that did not consider me a viable confidant to vocalise their situations?

There are degrees of responsibilities and I can try and justify how or why I didn’t do more in many ways. I was junior to those who have been victims let alone the perpetrators; I was young in age and professional experience; I suffered similar concerns as to how it would impact on my own career etc. All that being said, it is clear to me today that I and others didn’t support colleagues enough, both in individual instances and in changing the wider culture. My ignorance to the realities facing my female colleagues and friends serves as no excuse. I wasn’t aware of the truth perhaps because I wasn’t willing or able to see beyond my own personal environment. It was this lack of awareness that helped allow sexual harassment to thrive within the political sphere in Wales.

Recently, I’ve spoken to a number of women I worked with over the years to voice these regrets and to apologize.  The magnanimous attitude they have adopted in response serves only to emphasis how much I didn’t play my part and how important it is that I, along with other men who have and do work in Welsh politics, have a duty to ensure victims, past; present and future, deserve action.

The whole Carl Sargeant story is tragic. I’ve no inside track as to the legitimacy of allegations against him. I don’t know any of the details. I feel horrendous for what his friends and family must be going through in the aftermath of his death.  I also feel huge sympathy for those individuals who felt compelled to register allegations against him. The victim blaming they have endured on social media is an utter disgrace.

However, what I do know is that the genie is out of the bottle on this issue. Carl Sargeant may or may not have had a case to answer.  I stress again I have no knowledge of those allegations.  Regardless, there will be many women in Welsh politics, Welsh public life and across different industries and professions in Wales who will have encountered sexual harassment. We can’t change the fact this is now in the public consciousness, nor should we ever want to. The time is right to set the agenda and change the way politics is conducted to safeguard those at all levels within it.  I don’t want any regrets about trying to help that cause now.

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