SWP internal committee exonerates senior member of rape

by Laura // 12 January 2013, 11:05

Tags: political parties, rape, sexual harassment, SWP, victim blaming

 It has come to light this week that the internal Disputes Committee within the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) held a hearing to address a rape case involving a young female party member and a senior male member. The accused was ruled not to have raped the complainant. The Disputes Committee reported back to the party conference on Saturday 5 January, where the issue was discussed. A transcript of this discussion has been leaked and published online.

That it was deemed appropriate to deal with such a serious issue outside of the criminal justice system is in my view bad enough, particularly considering that the worst punishment the accused could apparently have faced if found guilty of rape was his expulsion from the party. But the details of the Disputes Committee hearing, as evidenced by the transcript, make matters even worse.

To summarise, the Disputes Committee members all knew and/or were friends with the accused and five out of eight of them were serving or previous members of the Central Committee, of which the accused was apparently also a part. None of them knew the young woman (referred to as "W"). W is reportedly "incredibly traumatised by the hearing". According to a party member who spoke up for her at the conference:

She was questioned about why she went for a drink with him, her witnesses were repeatedly asked whether she'd been in a relationship with him [...] she was asked about relationships with other comrades including sexual relationships.
She felt she was being interrogated and felt they were trying to catch her out in order to make her out to be a liar. She did not accept the line of questioning, saying 'they think I'm a slut who asked for it'. [...] she feels she's been treated as this non-person.

The transcript also indicates that W "was expected to respond immediately to the evidence that [the accused] was able to bring - she never got to see it in advance. He had her statement for weeks before she appeared in front of the panel."

Another woman has also come forward with accusations against the man. She says she has been removed from her party job and told her presence would "disrupt the harmony of the office".

All this has lead to former Socialist Worker journalist Tom Walker resigning from the party. He explains his decision and raises very serious concerns here, including the following:

It is stated that the accuser did not want to go to the police, as is her absolute right if that was truly her decision. However, knowing the culture of the SWP, I doubt that was a decision she made entirely free from pressure.
Do not underestimate the pressure the SWP can bring to bear on members by telling them to do or not do things for the ultimate cause of the socialist society the party's members are all fighting for. Against the prospect of the liberation of the whole of humanity, they will attempt to make even the most serious issue seem less important than the party's survival.

Indeed, the Disputes Committee members repeatedly refer to protecting the party's reputation when discussing the case.

I have chosen to highlight this firstly because I want to express my solidarity with the women who were brave enough to speak up about the alleged abuse. They have been treated appallingly and my heart goes out to them.

Secondly, I think it's important that this information is shared widely, because both party members and potential party members have a right to know how the SWP leadership treat women who come forward and say they have suffered abuse. I can only imagine how those already within the party may be feeling following all this; it's clear that many members do not agree with the way the case was dealt with.

Laurie Penny has written more this case over at New Statesman, situating it in the wider context of how sexual violence is dealt with by the Left.

Photo of an SWP badge (a red fist with the letters SWP) by dannybirchall, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

Kirst // Posted 12 January 2013 at 12:07

Doesn't surprise me. They're so full of a sense of their own righteousness and so convinced their way is the only true way to liberate women from their oppression that they'll never admit they got this badly wrong. I know the justice system in this country is far from ideal when it comes to prosecuting sexual assault cases, but how dare they decide they have the right to do it instead?

Poor W. I'm so sorry this happened to her, and so sorry the party she believed in let her down so badly. I hope she can find the strength to recover from what has happened and go on with her life.

socialistworker // Posted 12 January 2013 at 13:32

Well, here's what one SWP member has to say about it. http://nathan-akehurst.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/notes-on-swp-crisis.html

SWPFeminist // Posted 12 January 2013 at 14:30

I'm in the SWP and I'm not going to try to the defend the disgusting way in which the DC handled themselves and this case. I just want to let you all know that a lot of SWP are absolutely disgusted at the way this has been, including a CC member being booed out of a meeting. The CC has made absolutely no effort to submit a statement after all the press attention. The reason so many of us are staying in is because W is staying to fight, which I think is incredibly brave and I feel I can't really justify leaving if she's not.
We're trying to get a recall conference at the moment so we can tell them all what we think of their stupid kangaroo court and hopefully rid ourselves of these thoroughly unpleasant people who have found themselves in charge. Please show solidarity with the people in the SWP who are making a stand against this awful little clique at the top.

I'll understand if you have no sympathy, I just wanted to let you know that there is a substantial resistance to this.

Laura // Posted 12 January 2013 at 14:54

Thanks very much for your comment, SWPFeminist. I wish you all the best in your efforts.

Kirst // Posted 12 January 2013 at 15:22

Hi SWPFeminist. I think taking a stand against the CC is a brave thing to do - I can't imagine they'll take kindly to it. Good luck with it.

SWPFeminist // Posted 12 January 2013 at 15:48

Thanks guys -Just wanted to let you know that we're not all the same! I think the CC have lost all credibility and they've severely damaged the party. I think even the hacks are getting a bit freaked out by the whole thing. I've been morbidly amused by watching them scrabble about to defend the whole procedure. One even changed her line and insisted she 'never said there was no problem with the procedure!' (lie) So I asked her why she voted it through and she couldn't answer. I voted the thing down, myself. I wouldn't trust the DC with my fucking tweezers. And I don't even own tweezers. Thanks for not shouting me down and telling me I'm a hypocrite. Wish us luck to purge the party of Stalinist fucks. x

for womens's liberation! // Posted 12 January 2013 at 16:31

This whole horrible story goes against everything the SWP stands for and be assured that the vast majority of SWP members are deeply committed to women's equality and are sickened by what is happening in this case... men have been kicked out for harassing women as the default position normally. That is why so many women remain in the party and why there is hope of change. On the issue of the police I am fully in support of those sisters who decide to go and those who decide they cant face that whole process as well and I am not sure that we should have a position that says everyone must go. I felt worse after and got no justice myself

Laura // Posted 12 January 2013 at 18:53

Just to clarify, I wasn't implying that W should have gone to the police - I support women in doing whatever they think is best for them in terms of reporting or not reporting. But I think it was totally inappropriate for such a serious crime to be dealt with by a group of the accused's friends and workmates.

HarpyMarx // Posted 12 January 2013 at 22:26

Revolutionary orgs. shouldn't be dealing internally with serious criminal allegations. They don't have the expertise, knowledge or the legal experience. Reading the disputes committee leaked report shocked me, Socialist Unity were correct in publishing this as it exposed the Kafka-esque nightmarish outrageous debate and investigation.
Indeed the wishes of the woman should respected but this report was clear cut and there were interventions from the floor that contradicted the report's movers that the woman supported.

Questions that need answering

Was the woman supported?
Was seeking help, for example, from Rape Crisis?
Did she really not want to seek police intervention or was she put under pressure?
How was the allegation investigated?
How the evidence gathered?
Why wasn't the woman allowed to ser comrade Delta's statement for dome time?
How can a conclusion be reached based on a committee of your friends?
How was the definition if rape interpreted?
Was similar fact evidence brought in?

This also highlights the power relationships and sexist double standards that operate not just in society overall but the revo left it also shows what happens when groups dismiss and sneer at feminism by using a rather lumpen understanding of oppression.

Many years ago I experienced violence by a male comrade I was seeing. He was a member of the same Trot group I was in. I told the org what had happened. I was told it would be investigated by the control commission but in order for this to happen I had to give my statement if events with him in the room. I refused. It was not dealt with, because I refused and they didn't accommodate me. Nobody mentioned me going to the police. To say I feel let down is an understatement. I didn't receive justice and I regret it to this day. I hope the woman in the SWP case doesn't regret not going to the cops 20 years on. I was definitely say take your chances with the police and not some incompetent internal mechanism that acts like a kangaroo court.

for womens's liberation! // Posted 13 January 2013 at 02:47

Thanks for that clarification about the police. I just thought it was worth saying as I keep reading comments on other blogs saying that the main issue is that they should have made her go to the police when of course the main and only issue is why they think they can sit in judgement on a woman's word re consent. Unless they are saying, which they are not, that she is some kind of fascist or police spy making up stories to break the SWP with, then why don't they believe her when she says she was raped?

Kirst // Posted 13 January 2013 at 10:14

Because they choose to believe the person they know. They have bias, probably both conscious and unconscious.

marxistfem // Posted 13 January 2013 at 10:33

I just wanted to share this article with you all: http://www.leninology.com/2013/01/crisis-in-swp.html
It sums up how a lot of party members are feeling right now. I myself a memeber of the party is disgusted with the CC and their actions. My first thought was to leave, however after consideration it is best for feminists to stay in the party and fight this. We do not tolerate Rape Apolgoists or oppression. We need a fast cultural change in this party. We should be recalling conference to fight this.

marxistfem // Posted 13 January 2013 at 10:46

I just wanted to share this blog with you all because it describes the feelings of a lot of memembers of the SWP: http://www.leninology.com/2013/01/crisis-in-swp.html
I myself like SWPfeminist am a memeber of the party. My orignial thought was to leave the party. However I have decided to stay and fight this. What the CC have done is disgusting, we need to have conference recall to sort this matter out as soon as possible.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 13 January 2013 at 16:27

You have to take into account the woman's personal relationship with the police. As somebody anti-police, I can say it's very likely I wouldn't go to them. I don't believe in that justice, and most rape and abuse tends to be things which we (probably for the worse) tend to forgive or sweep under the carpet, or just pass off as inappropriate.

There were clearly horrible mistakes made here, particularly regards the questions asked, but I am curious as to people who feel like the organisation should have made no enquiries whatsoever. I say this because these two people were in the same organisation, and that being the case, it is possible that in order to truly support the woman, she would need him to be removed from the organisation. He gave a completely different sequence of events, so, whilst I would always say that you believe the woman and then work from there, it seems like there wasn't a procedure already in place for this, and so the panel were left to try to work out how to support the victim, whilst still being 'fair' to MS. It's very difficult, I would imagine, to just throw a member (and a high ranking member at that) out, if you dont believe that he has done anything and certainly can't prove it. Of course, you cant prove consent or non consent in the vast majority of cases, which is why I believe a court system (both with the police or in the SWP) is rather unsuitable. Innocent till proven guilty generally means that the perpetrator will get off scot-free.

the reaction to people coming forward to criticise the outcome within the group seems to be one of the worst aspects of this case. however, i find the 'democratic' centralism which means that disagreeing with the party line on such public platforms as your own personal facebook page or down the pub, or in your house where a non-member is present can get you in trouble, inevitably ends up with totalitarianism in the favour of those at the top, and crushing criticism, even such as accusations of rape.

activist // Posted 14 January 2013 at 09:19

I have been a member of the SWP for 18 years and had planned to resign immediately over this. However there is such a groundswell of feelings of disgust and outrage within the membership of the SWP about the actions of the CC that I too plan to stay at least for a short time to try to organise recall of conference and to fight to change the culture in the leadership. I however will not stay in the SWP if nothing changes after this. I would also like to echo Kirst's post and say how terribly sorry I am that the organisation that the woman involved trusted has let her down so badly. I also really appreciate the supportive comments on this feed they help to make me feel I can stay in the SWP for the moment and try to change it.

Julie // Posted 14 January 2013 at 21:36

Actually the report by the F-Word is a gross distortion of what actually happened. One of the witnesses speaking for the woman (not the woman herself) said that the comrade was asked "innappropriate questions", PLEASE note that a speaker from the Disputes committee replied later in the session that "a lot of lies have been made about what questions were asked by the disputes committee. The questions that were asked were shaped by the information that the person making the allegations brought and that she thought was relevant." The F-word is actually selectively posting information, and is not doing its research properly. The person making the allegations chose to go to the SWP, not the police. May I point out that if the SWP had refused to investigate it and said that she must go to the police. What if she did not want to? What then, does the SWP of which I am proud to be a member of just do nothing? It had to investigate rape allegations. What would it look like if we did not? In terms of whom the Disputes committee are: They are several people who are democratically elected each year at our conference. They are people that have got track records of responsibility such leading campaigns inside trade unions, which requires being open and understanding accountability and integrity and someone who is calm and respects confidentiality. It was an admittedly difficult situation as the person whom the allegations were made against was a leading party member whereas the person who made the allegation was not. I am not saying we cannot find ways to look to see if we can improve our processes - but to just disband the disputes committee when an extremely serious allegation was suddenly brought to us would mean searching around for other people to elect whom people sufficiently trusted to deal with cases that are often extremely sensitive, and that was not practical as it would take more time, nor would it be fair to the woman making the allegations. And also to suddenly call for a new disputes committee well before when we normally elect people would have alerted comrades to the fact that something special was going on "was it a high profile case?" And that would risk breaching confidentiality. As soon as the allegations were made the male comrade was told to immediately cease all party activities whilst a detailed investigation took place. The case was taken extremely seriously, I should know because I sat through the conference session. If in future the woman who made the allegations, changes her mind and decides to go to the police, that is also her right and it should be respected. There is a split in the party over this, which I have not got time to go into the details and don't want to go into an interminable debate with the comrade above. But the link to what the comrade above quoted from Lenin's Tomb is actually another gross distortion, it contains many lies and statements taken out of context. The position of the comrade who writes that Lenin's Tomb Blog is now untenable in the party.

anothaswpfemfatale // Posted 15 January 2013 at 04:13

Just want to elaborate what the comrade has said earlier. A large section of the SWP are absolutely disgusted at the CC mishandling of this case. I personally believe that the case should not have been taken on by the DC and in fact the woman should have been supported to report this to the police and the accused suspended pending investigation. As a feminist and revolutionary I am also pessimistic about the police and court system, however on this very serious and criminal matter it most certainly should have been dealt with by the justice system and not our party internal mechanism. I can fully appreciate that comrade W was reluctant to go to the police, but feel actually the DC should have supported her fully and encouraged her to go to the police in order for her to fully exorcise her right for justice. What the DC expected to find during their investigation beggars belief frankly and crucially what they expected to enforce as punishment (other than expulsion at the very most) equates to mickey mouse justice in an Alice in Wonderland/Walt Disneyland fairy tale. In other words we are not living in a post revolutionary state and even if we were we would be ensuring the complexities involved in such a case be heard and would most certainly ensure justice for the victims. But the issue is we are not and therefore although we are vehemently against the capitalist justice system, we should not be against criminal justice for victims of rape. We should be fighting for justice and in the public and especially the woman's interest. Not the parties interest. Our party has failed us and lied about this issue for 2 years. It began with sexual harassment, which is also a very serious criminal offence and now rape. It strikes me the equally appalling issue of disclosure of this to our party conference was inevitably going to lead to major disruption. The CC obviously did not envisage this. I was not able to make conference and am pleased to have had access to this information through the leaked transcript. I now know the severity of the allegations and am one of the members who has been lied to or misinformed. I do not know the female comrade in question and cannot imagine her distress at the leakage of this document let alone the disclosure at conference and now the subsequent furor surrounding this. But I should hope that she takes comfort from knowing that many of the SWP membership will not and shall not tolerate such sickening acts of sexual violence, harassment or stalking of our sisters nor the undermining of justice, the meaning of feminism or underestimate the true extent of womens oppression as not even our organisation is immune to it. I most certainly will be fighting the CCs position on this and its demands for silence and its threats of expulsion and am also calling for a recall of conference. This has brought to the fore some very serious issues surrounding our leadership, our parties democracy, its democratic structures as well as our role within the various campaigns, numerous trade unions and the left on a local, national and international level not to mention our politics. We are comrades in arms and this is OUR party not theirs and I will support our sisters against abuse and tyranny and call for resignations. This sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable within an organisation who fights against and educates others about womens oppression. Most of us are not by any means standing for the so called party line on this. We will fight with determination to win our party back from the misogynistic insidious rot thats set in and to which has been allowed to fester unchallenged for the last few years. Also just to finish holding up female comrades on the DC is tokenism at its best and primitive attempt to prove that the investigation was fair and thorough and simply does not cut it. In fact the contrary. It only seeks to reaffirm male dominated dismissive attitudes toward the seriousness of the allegation, replicates the capitalist attitudes towards womens opression, undermines the principles of marxist feminist politics and seeks to deny that our organisation could possibly have anything like this going on when actually the anger and distress of the delegates at conference and the subsequent similar complaint from yet another female comrade disproves that. Like I says we are not by any means immune to this type of behaviour within our ranks and we must fight it head on.

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