Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

An Open Letter to @ChrisDaviesMEP

Dear Mr Davies,

I would like to respond to the comments that you made on BBC News and BBC Radio Four this morning regarding the allegations made against Lord Rennard.

You told the BBC that the issue of groping a woman against her wishes had been blown out of proportion, and since it took place so long ago it should no longer be an issue. You said that Chris Rennard is a "good man", and does not deserve this treatment for such a minor misdemeanour.

You stated:

"This isn’t Jimmy Savile. This is touching someone’s leg six years ago at a meeting through clothing. This is the equivalent of a few years ago an Italian man pinching a woman’s bottom."How much more must this man be made to suffer through the media condemnation that comes out day after day fed by the party leadership?”

You snorted in derision on BBC News when you commented that the leg was "touched through a trouser - through a trouser!" as if this was laughable. I would like to take issue with several of these comments, and I will leave aside your rather prejudiced dismissal of Italian men. As someone of Italian origin myself, I will just say that Italian politics has indeed had problems with sexual harassment of women and it is an issue that needs to be addressed. To dismiss it so flippantly and to generalise about Italian men as a race is woefully ignorant and betrays your disregard for sexual harassment and misogyny as an issue.

What has caused the deepest offence, however - and I am sure you have seen by now the outcry on Twitter that followed your comments - is your implication that forcing unwanted sexual contact upon another person is a minor issue, and not one for which the perpetrator should be held to account; and furthermore, that once a certain amount of time has elapsed, it no longer matters.I'm sure you recognise that ridiculous lack of logic behind your suggestion that the length of time since the incident is relevant. You drew the comparison with Jimmy Savile, and whilst this is a wholly inappropriate comparison (as I will discuss later), it may be more appropriate on this one point.

The amount of time that has elapsed since a crime does not lessen that crime. It does not lessen the impact on the victim. If anything, it exacerbates the crime as the victim has been living with the fear and distress that the crime has caused for so much longer. They may have been living with this distress without support, and perhaps with ridicule and intimidation. If someone is forcing unwanted sexual contact onto anyone then this should be addressed in order to prevent it from happening again, or from escalating. It is obviously preferable to address the issue as soon as possible, but if this is not possible then whenever the crime comes to light, I'm sure you will agree, it should be investigated.

Your comparison with Jimmy Savile is, quite frankly, absurd. Would you suggest that since there are people in the world who have murdered people, we should ignore any crimes of physical assault because these "aren't as bad"? Would you advocate turning a blind eye to minor assaults because they are not as severe as major assaults? How would you define "severe"? Where do we draw the line? Certainly the crimes that Savile perpetrated were of a particularly shocking and obscene nature, but you insult victims of any form of sexual violence by insisting that we should compare who has suffered the most. You cheapen and dismiss the suffering that they have all endured. Someone who is mugged in the street with "minimal" violence also suffers, even though someone else may have been mugged and sustained severe injuries. We do not ask them to compare who has been through the most; we accept that they have both undergone difficult ordeals and we help them to heal. We should not approach the victims of sexual violence any differently.

By comparing Rennard's crimes to those of Savile, you are attempting to single out and diminish victims of this kind of sexual aggression. You are attempting to isolate the victims - which is not an uncommon tactic of bullies - by suggesting that their suffering is not as great as that of victims of more severe sexual abuse. You are attempting to belittle and shame them into silence so that they, and all those who suffer similar attacks, will keep quiet and allow it to continue. You are attempting to divide those who campaign against sexual aggression by suggesting to victims of severe abuse that the suffering of these women is not as great as theirs. As if the suffering is something Savile's victims are proud of or that they cherish. That is a disgusting implication. As victims of sexual aggression, from street harassment to sexual harassment in the workplace to sexual abuse and rape, we all, as victims and survivors stand together to say that none of it is acceptable and that enough is enough.

Finally, we come to your opinion that simply "touching someone's leg" is not an issue worth pursuing. Perhaps you are not aware of the law on this subject, so allow me to enlighten you: unwanted physical contact forced on another human being without their consent is assault. There is a reason why the law categorises this behaviour in this way: all human beings have the right to autonomy over their own body and to have security of their person, as guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many women (research suggests most women) currently live in a constant state of fear due to sexual harassment and intimidation that they face on a daily basis. We as a society need to address that problem.

I would like you to imagine living your life facing continued insults, lewd comments and/or sleights against your abilities, based purely on your gender. Imagine if you never knew when you would next face unwelcome and intimidating advances coming from people who are able and possibly likely to physically overpower you or make life incredibly difficult for you at work if you resist. Imagine if you were continually under threat of uninvited and unwanted physical violation of your person. This is the the world that most women occupy in today's society. This is unacceptable. A touch on a leg, coming from someone who you absolutely do not want to have touch you can be highly distressing. Coming from someone in an influential position who has the power to ruin your career, it is frightening. Coming from a large man who could most likely physically overpower you, it is terrifying. It is disgusting and sickening and at the very least will make you extremely uncomfortable. When this takes place in a place of work, it will make the victim incredibly uncomfortable for the entirety of their time at work - and as we all know that is a large portion of our lives.

When the media and criminal justice system suggest that these actions are minor or irrelevant, it makes the suffering of the victim all the worse. The victim feels alone, with nowhere to turn, no support, and is made to feel that they are to blame and that they should be ashamed about what has happened.This is unacceptable. We must challenge this behaviour in our society and not allow this climate of fear to continue. This is why crimes such as those alleged against Lord Rennard must be held to account.

Nick Clegg said earlier today:

"If you've shown distress to another colleague, and that has been shown to be the case, as indeed it has been, then the most decent thing you can do is to apologise."

We must learn to treat the distress caused by unwanted sexual contact as an issue as severe as any other form of assault. We must educate our children that no one has the right to touch anyone else without their full, willing consent. We must start treating sexual aggression or sexual violence - and unwanted contact is a form of violence - as a severe and unacceptable crime. Otherwise we continue to foster a society in which 50% of our citizens live in fear.

Through a trouser or not (I can't imagine why you think this is relevant), Lord Rennard is alleged to have touched a number of women in inappropriate unwanted ways.

That is a crime.

I hope to hear an apology soon from both yourself and Lord Rennard for the great deal of distress that you have both caused.

Yours sincerely,

Allegra Holbrook

[Admin: If you'd like to add your signature to this letter, please include your name in the comments - your email address will not be published]
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54 thoughts on “An Open Letter to @ChrisDaviesMEP

  • Admin says:

    EVB Admin Team adding their signature to the open letter above.

    We will also be forwarding this to the EU as per these guidelines:

    http://ec.europa.eu/justice/citizen/complaints/ombudsman/index_en.htm

    • Graham Ritchie says:

      I have followed this issue in detail and conclude Rennard should apologise, personally or publically, to the women concerned. I also suggest he should accept counselling to assist in his recovery from his sociopathic behaviour.

      I trust Chris Davies will consider carefully the contents of this letter.

      21 Jan 2014
      Brittany, France

    • Patricia says:

      Thank you Allegra for writing such a powerful and unequivocal piece. Please add my name- Patricia Murphy

  • Katharine A Gilchrist says:

    Please add my name. Thank you.

  • Stephen Burrell says:

    Thank you for writing this letter – I would like to add my name to it. I think it sums up perfectly just how appalling the response from many people within and beyond the Lib Dems has been to this case. If these are the people who are supposed to be our representatives, I think that says quite a lot about the society which we live in.

  • Virginie Bellaton says:

    Please add my name to the letter: virginie bellaton

  • Jamie Strachan says:

    Despite some neanderthal male opinions, groping or touching or even leering over a woman is NOT acceptable. The sooner you realise this the better. I completely support this letter.

    You are an insult to manhood and should be disgraced with yourself.

  • Mal Warwick says:

    Please add my name. I’m disgusted with the way this has been dealt with by the justice system and the Lib-Dems, and this guy Davies should really apologise to all concerned.

    Why are women expected to ‘put up’ with this kind of behaviour in the work place, and elsewhere? I feel a revolution coming on!

  • Heidi Corbally says:

    Please add my name to this letter. I’m disgusted at these excuses.

  • Joanna Allan says:

    Great letter, I’d like to add my name.

  • Dr Sarah Oates says:

    There is a typo – I think you mean “start” rather than “stop” in the sentence

    “We must stop treating sexual aggression or sexual violence – and unwanted contact is a form of violence – as a severe and unacceptable crime.”

    And other than that, this letter is an oustanding piece of writing. Please add my signature to it.

  • Marco Borselli says:

    My name is Marco Borselli. I am a man, I am Italian and I totally support what has been said in this letter. As Allegra has already extensively explained why there is no excuse for groping a woman or any other member of society, I won’t spend other words on this matter.
    Still, I would like to make a point about that frankly racist comparison of Mr Davies’s about an Italian man pinching a woman’s bottom. I am not sure what kind of knowledge Mr Davies holds about Italian culture and habits, but let me clarify something: in Italy, groping a woman, touching her without consent, is considered a crime – sexual assault, more specifically.
    It pains me to see that people still hold on to this trite stereotype picturing Italians as horny tentacled-like men with the sexual drive of virgin teenager. Whereas it may be true that Italian culture is more ‘physical’ in the way we show affection to others and that men may have a more straightforward romantic approach (though I could raise many objections to this point), this does not make all Italian men potential sexual harassers – which, whether you wanted or not, is what your comparison actually implies.
    It may surprise you, Mr Davies, but despite our former premier’s sexual habits most Italian men are quite conservative when it comes to sexual interactions of any kind. Assuming that one element can be taken as an example of any Italian walking on this Earth is what is commonly called a stereotype. If such reasoning worked, I could assume that all Britons are stuck-up, imperialist misogynists who live in the imaginary glory of a dead empire and consider anyone with a different nationality or ethnicity unworthy of setting foot on their heavenly Country. As I have lived in London for over three years, I can confirm that this is not the case.
    I would like you to read once again my sentence above: how does it feel when you are the one being stereotyped? Now, try to imagine that the leg that was being touched was that of your wife or your teenage daughter. Would you still consider it something negligible?
    Next time you underplay someone’s ethnicity or gender, Mr Davies, think twice. Because what you dispose of as a minor issue may happen to you or your beloved ones. And that day the issue won’t feel so minor.

    • Allegra Holbrook says:

      Excellent point, very well said Marco! It is all too easy to belittle people who you perceive as “other” – quite different when these things happen to you or someone close to you.

      I was raised by an Italian mother, with an Italian grandfather, and I can vouch for the fact that most Italian men have the utmost respect for women. I have been treated with much greater respect by Italian men than by British men! Mr Davies’ comments are ignorant and quite simply racist.

    • Allegra Holbrook says:

      Mr Davies has now apologised for his remarks about Italians. Sadly the excuse he gave for what he described as “crass” comments was that he had needed to put the allegations against Chris Rennard “into proportion”. Very sad indeed. I’m glad that he at least recognised the harm in slandering an entire nation of men. Now if only he realised how much harm he was doing to a entire world of women.

  • Catherine Costello says:

    I am disgusted but not surprised. Thank you for taking this up & please add my name.

  • Please include my name! Thank you very much for this and all your work, well done and keep it up

  • Kate Hooker says:

    Brilliant letter, please add my name.

  • Jennifer Drew says:

    Please add my name because male sexual harassment/male sexual assault of women and girls is a serious crime. Chris Davies is uttering the common male perspective wherein men continue to deny they are enacting sexual power and domination over women. Males are not routinely subjected to sexual harassment and/or sexual assault by other males and because males do not suffer this, they claim they are definitive experts on what does and does not constitute ‘sexual assault/sexual harassment.’

    It has taken Feminists decades for men and their male supremacist legal system to accept that male sexual harassment of women within the workplace is a crime not a right male employees/male owners/male managers accord themselves wherein they can sexually assault/sexually harass female employees with impunity.

    Shame on you Chris Davies because you are perpetuating mens’ excuses/denials of women’s and girls’ lived experiences of pandemic male sexual harassment/males sexually assaulting them.

  • Ben Harman says:

    Well put. Fully support this!!

  • Sihem JOUINI says:

    “I would like you to imagine living your life facing continued insults, lewd comments and/or sleights against your abilities, based purely on your gender. Imagine if you never knew when you would next face unwelcome and intimidating advances coming from people who are able and possibly likely to physically overpower you or make life incredibly difficult for you at work if you resist. Imagine if you were continually under threat of uninvited and unwanted physical violation of your person.” Brilliant Allegra.

  • Peter Chapman says:

    Well said Allegra. Completely support this.

  • Danielle Doyle says:

    Excellent letter, please add my name.

  • Sarah Earp says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. Please add my name to the letter.

  • Polly Randall says:

    Please add my name

  • Ruth Livingstone says:

    An excellent letter and sums up my own opinion in a far more elegant manner than I could have achieved. Please add my name.

  • Nina Nason says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with the article, please add my name..

    Ridiculing and diminishing victim’s experience by deciding what sexual harassment should and shouldn’t be taken seriously is damaging. I just hope this kind of attitude won’t further put women off coming forward, in case theirs is seen as the ‘wrong sort’ of sexual harassment.

  • Dee Montague says:

    Please add my signature to this fantastic letter.

  • Ruth Lavery says:

    Well said. Please add my name

  • Thank you Allegra for this wonderful letter. Please add my name to it.

  • Marc Fairclough says:

    Davies’ comments were an embarrassment and a disgrace.

    Thank you for writing this letter, and please add my name to it!

    Marc Fairclough
    (Liberal Democrat party member)

  • Susan Daniel says:

    I’m in my forties and was sexually assaulted (through my clothes) aged 9. I’ve never forgotten the fear. I stood rooted to the spot watching my abuser getting more and more sexually aroused. I didn’t even know what it was that I was witnessing I just knew I was terrified, it was a long time ago, I should forget it then according to Chris. Except I can’t

    Please add my signature to this letter, thank you for expressing so eloquently what was going on in my head but I couldn’t articulate so well.

  • Fiona Punton says:

    Please add my name

  • Jane Anderson-Hawkes says:

    Bravo! Please add my name.

  • Philippa Gray says:

    I am a Lib Dem party member but am in full agreement with your letter. Please a my signature

  • Dawn Titmus says:

    Well put. Pls add my name

  • Roweena says:

    This is violence against women. Add my name and thank you.

  • Maeve Regan says:

    add me too

  • Erica de Bruin says:

    Totally agree, Please add my name

  • Morag Bennett says:

    Thank you for writing this letter. I am happy to add my name to it. If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.

  • Katherine says:

    Adding my name.
    This is not okay. Through trousers or not, touching someone without their consent is not okay.

  • Very good letter – please add my name too, thank you.

  • Alison Boydell says:

    Please add my name to this. Thank you

  • Sara Redmond says:

    As someone who has experienced this type of unwanted sexual contact I fully support this letter and would like to add my name to it.

  • Sarah Roberts says:

    Please add my name.

  • Yvonne Barclay says:

    Please add my name

  • Sarah Green, Campaigns Manager, End Violence Against Women Coalition says:

    pls add my name to the petition

  • Lisa Colombi says:

    This letter says everything I’d want to say to this vile person who’s comments do men everywhere a disservice. Please add my name to this letter.

  • Andrew Leach says:

    I’m a LibDem voter. Men making disgusting comments like the ones this MEP made do nothing but dissuade voters like me to support this party.

  • Lauren says:

    Wonderful points raised, happy to sign my name here.

  • Jennifer Jones says:

    Please add my name in agreement.

  • The comments made by Chris Davies are unacceptable, untrue and inappropriate. He is minimizing and dismissing the abusive actions in a very public way, not only to Rennards victims but all victims of sexual abuse and violence.

    As a therapist specialising in domestic/sexual abuse. I hear women and men recount such experiences they had as children and young people which still have an impact in their 40s 50s 60s………. Also, this is not about ‘poor’ Rennard, this is about his unacceptable behaviour towards women from a place of trust. People who defend him should be ashamed of themselves.

    Please add my name to the letter.