MISOGYNY is “baked into our society”, the Chief Minister has said after female politicians were reportedly the targets of harassment following the presentation of findings from the Violence Against Women and Girls Taskforce.
One States Member was allegedly abused over the phone following the release of the report last week – and it is believed attempts were made to contact other female politicians.
The JEP understands that a man was arrested and released on bail.
Chief Minister Kristina Moore said that, while she was not personally targeted, she was “aware” of the alleged harassment. She continued: “Of course, that’s really disappointing. We’re a strong community and part of that strength is being respectful to each other, embracing each other’s views and opinions and working out how we can work all together to support our community.”
Another female States Member – who wished to remain anonymous – told the JEP about the abuse she had faced while serving in government.
“I have had some really quite unpleasant, frankly revolting, things said to me by members of the public,” she said.
“This includes some incredibly awful phone calls which were reported to the police.
“However, I didn’t take them forward because my family had already been through enough. I didn’t feel strong enough to go through a court case.
“While they did target male States Members too, the comments towards me were more unpleasant, more personal – they asked me what I was wearing and things like that.
“As States Members, we put ourselves out there and we do the best we can for our community, but some things like that are intolerable. That was repulsive and totally unnecessary, it is very unsettling and upsetting for the person involved.
“There have been comments that this doesn’t happen, but it does, and it is embedded culturally. I’m aware that I have to work much harder, as a woman, to get to where I am rather than if I was a man, which is so disappointing.”
There have long been fears that the threat of abuse – either in person or online – is deterring potential candidates from standing for the States.
In his departing message to the Island after completing his five-year term as Lieutenant-Governor, General Sir John McColl spoke of the abuse faced by serving politicians.
“It worries me that they come in for so much personal criticism,” he said.
“People will say that politicians should expect that, and they do, but they aren’t usually as accessible as they are in Jersey. The danger is that if a climate like that persists, then getting people to stand will be difficult.
“No system and nobody is perfect, and it is absolutely right that policy should be analysed and politics criticised where appropriate. However, my concern would be the personal nature of that criticism within the confines of a small island in which the atmosphere can become unduly caustic.”
Assistant Chief Minister Lucy Stephenson said she had not personally encountered any abuse or harassment, but added: “I shouldn’t have to ‘count myself lucky’ – it shouldn’t be happening at all and women in public office, or indeed anyone, should not be expected to accept inappropriate behaviour or feeling unsafe as ‘part of the job’ or coming with the territory.”
She continued: “Women in public office, more so than men, often have their appearances commented on or are on the receiving end of name calling. We will often be told it’s just a joke, lighten up and so on, but that’s where some of these very behaviours can start and it sends out the wrong message.
“I know that concerns about abuse, harassment and general negativity on social media is a huge barrier for many women potentially interested in standing for election and I have had numerous conversations with people who say it puts them off even beginning to consider it. You hear it from men, too, although in my experience more often from women.”
The research published by the VAWG Taskforce – made up of 20 specialists in the community – painted a picture of the Island as having a “fragmented, male-biased, untouchable system”.
It made 77 recommendations to the government, police and other agencies, among which were calls for an independent review of the Jersey criminal justice system in relation to domestic abuse, rape, and serious sexual assault.
Commenting on the recommendations Deputy Moore said: “I will read them carefully and consider them, and I need to do that alongside my colleagues, particularly the Justice and Home Affairs Minister. We welcome the report and its findings; it’s an important topic, and I’m grateful to the taskforce for their efforts.
“The report was very clear about a level of misogyny that is baked into our society, and of course it takes a long time to move away from embedded culture and values and opinions. It is something that is always best to approach with actions, which speak louder than words. I feel very honoured to have my leadership role in society as a woman.”