Trigger warning: an account of sexual assault and cover up in a socialist organisation
The following is brave testimony from a female socialist on her experience of the dual harm of first sexual assault from a trusted partner and ‘comrade’ and then the compounding harm of organisational cover up after she reported it to the party she and her then partner were both members of – The Socialist Party. The SP leaders as an organisation refused to take any meaningful action against the perpetuator in order to protect both her and other women’s safety. This is an unfortunately all too common experience of so many female activists on the left, as the author herself makes clear in her account below. Nothing will change on the socialist left unless we support survivors to come forward and speak our truths and challenge the culture of silence and cover up which only protects the (relatively) powerful within a political organisation and fails to make radical politics inclusive and attractive to working class women.
Disclaimer: I’d like for this story to go public possible but have my name withheld.
Author: Kayo (not real name)
Me and my now ex-partner both met via the Socialist Party of England & Wales (we were both members, with me joining in October 2010) and SPEW is part of the Committee for a Workers International which has sections in many other countries such as Ireland, Sweden and Greece. I got on well with him and we both agreed to go into a relationship.
In December 2011 I was sexually assaulted by my then partner through fingering; I said no, he said it was alright and I complied as I was scared he would become more forceful. At the time I didn’t realise it was sexual assault until looking back in hindsight. I did end the relationship with him a few weeks after the assault. I didn’t report it to the police as I don’t have faith in how they handle cases of rape and domestic violence.
Not long after ending the relationship, I told one of the full-timers (a paid party worker) at a party women’s caucus in London and she seemed supportive then. I also told other people there at the caucus but without giving his name as quite a number of members knew I was in a relationship with him (I’m glad I did as another woman a few months later opened up to me about her experience with him; we are now very good friends and left the party independently of each other).
I spoke to the same full-timer around a month later as I wanted to talk to her about it and whilst she seemed happy to do so at first, when I actually got round to talking about it she was making excuses that she couldn’t do anything about it. Now I understand they wanted to hear both sides but I felt I wasn’t taken seriously. Sometime later I requested that they expel him but they just dismissed it. I feel that I was poorly informed by them about how I could go about this (they actually don’t have a disciplinary procedure in general). I thought it was few bad apples until a year later when another member resigned due to how she was treated by the executive committee (the elected leadership of the party) after she was sexually assaulted by another member.
It was June 2014 when I resigned from the Socialist Party (what happened in the Swedish section of the CWI was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me); there were many things I wasn’t happy about for some time such as disagreements which could only go through the ‘democratic’ structures of the party (we couldn’t go public about it) and the able-ism amongst other things.
In summary it was mainly how I was treated by the party that was worse for me than the assault itself, but I survived and thankfully it didn’t take me long to come through it. I thought whilst I was a SP member how could I possibly not be in the party (they do it to their other members as they want us to do so much donkey work for them and the party can take over people’s lives) but when I did resign I felt happy with my decision.
I still do the stuff I like whilst I was still a member such as embroidery, video games, hiking and looking at pictures of border terriers and now I have one. I also celebrated the premier of Thunderbirds Are Go earlier this year which I have found in action to be more progressive when it comes to women than the Socialist Party ever truly will be!