On Saturday 17th of May several women campaigning in Tower Hamlets received sexist abuse, harassment and later physical assault by campaigners for the Labour Party. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? How has Tower Hamlets has become such a battleground where grown men think they’re actually in a war and anything goes? This article gives an account of what took place, based on the victim’s testimony and the witnesses to what happened. It is also a call for a transformation in political atmosphere in Tower Hamlets and the standards some campaigners are stooping to.
I was there the day these events happened. I’m not a member of any political group, but after watching the BBC Panorama documentary, for me, the Mayoral Election in Tower Hamlets has become a referendum on racism. I’ve got lots of friends in the Labour Party, some Tory mates even and I’m seriously considering joining the Green Party after the elections this week are over. So, for me, I think political activity is worthwhile and to be honest, it was a sunny day and I thought walking round with some friends in Tower Hamlets chatting to local people would be fun.
First Incident- verbal abuse
The day began with a group of young people, both men and women, joining other supporters of Mayor Lutfur Rahman at Chrisp Street Market at around 12PM to hand out leaflets and talk to local people. I was one of them.
At around 1PM a white male in a blue shirt and dark coat, of average height, walked past our group (circled in a photo linked to at the bottom of this article). He singled out S (I’m not sure it’s a good idea to fully reveal names so will use initials), the only girl in the group wearing a hijab, pointed at her head scarf and shouted she/it was “disgusting”. Later he returned and shouted that I was a “cunt.” I thought he was simply an abusive passerby who likes to harass women. Unfortunately, abuse towards women (he didn’t verbally abuse any of the men present) is all too common as young women particularly are seen as vulnerable, easy targets. I assumed the bloke was a nasty random stranger, but later found out he was a campaigner for the Labour Party.
Second incident- verbal abuse
In the late afternoon whilst returning home from campaigning a group of around 4 young activists spotted the abusive man on Vesey Path outside the Ideas Store handing out leaflets for Labour candidate John Biggs. This setting is where the photograph was taken.
The abusive man recognised the group from the Chrisp Street campaigning session and as they approached began shouting at a third young woman, calling her an “Islamofascist.” The young woman, M, is in fact a Catholic. The abusive man also called her a “slag” and stated: “Lutfur Rahman hates women” and “sexism is about equality so I can call you a slag.” The abusive man appears to have singled her out as she was the only one in a group wearing a skirt.
Third incident – physical abuse
The woman and her companions complained to other Labour Party campaigners, asking them to intervene to stop the abuse and to get an apology from the man. Her precise words were “how is it acceptable to speak to me like that?”
At this point another Labour campaigner, a tall white male in a white t-shirt began physically ramming the woman backwards, shoving her hard down the road and telling her she needed to leave.
The male in the black coat/blue shirt continued to shout at the young woman, saying she was a “fucking slag on drugs”.
Several members of the public then approached the young woman, who was now in tears, to comfort her whilst several Labour Party campaigners looked on and did nothing.
The police are being contacted. If any witnesses can help identify the ‘man in the white t-shirt’ who physically assaulted the young woman on Vesey Path or the man who harassed and verbally abused her and others, please do as we wish to pass their details on to the police. In the aforementioned photo is Labour councillor Shiria Khatun speaking to one of the men. Many people have Tweeted Shiria to ask who the man is she is speaking to. Shiria has blocked all the concerned women on Twitter who have requested his info to pass on to police. We will therefore be directing the police straight to her.
It is a great shame if politicians in the Labour Party are going to turn there back on their responsibility to condemn violence against women, simply because it was one of their own campaigners committing it. Women should be able to campaign openly in our society for whatever party or candidate they wish. There should not be a culture of intimidation allowed to go on unchallenged. When women are given sexist abuse or assaulted, regardless of the political persuasions of the perpetrators or victims, it is never acceptable.
On Monday 19th of May, in response to this weekends unfortunate events, there will be a rally/organised presence to say Tower Hamlets should be a safe space for all women. We’re meeting at 12pm outside the Ideas Store (the one near Chrisp Street – nearest station All Saints) in Tower Hamlets tomorrow. This is the exact location where the young woman was physically assaulted. This action is a direct response to that. Please bring banners and anti-violence against women material etc. To be clear: anyone from any political party can attend! This is about reclaiming public space as a safe place for women.
To be clear: we are inviting anyone from any political party. Anyone can attend and unite against violence against women and street harassment. Yesterday I Tweeted Rachel Saunders, Deputy Leader of the Labour group in Tower Hamlets, who assured me she would investigate. She has now deleted that Tweet and with it her email contact for me to get in touch. I want to explicitly invite Rachel to the rally tomorrow.
Why is a united response needed?
This could be vital for how safe women feel in Tower Hamlets. Already a Labour council candidate for St Katherine’s and Wapping ward, Robbert Scott, has openly on Twitter encouraged myself and the victim of assault not to go to police, saying all that took place is “rudeness” and it would be a waste of their time. Scott also said he would not identify the man in the photo and thought others pictured with him should not.
Any sort of cover-up or attempt to brush harassment or violence under the carpet sets standards for what people think is acceptable. This is why it’s so important for political representatives to not minimise violence against women. I’ve also contacted East London’s Labour organiser, James King, to enquire who the perpetrators are and so far King has refused to answer calls, but did text, “we continue to liaise directly with the police on this and other matters”. What other matters are the Labour party in East London involved with the police in? The victim of assault telephoned King directly and he ignored her calls and has refused to state what action the Labour Party will take over this incident. If the police don’t act, will Labour not bother investigating? Labour cannot remain silent over this. Refusing to condemn what happened would be a huge signal that violence against women is something to be got away with. I expect all political parties to condemn what has taken place.
<em>Email J.Izaakson@gmail.com for more information about the rally/orangised presence taking place on Monday (19th May) or any comment on what happened over the weekend.</em>