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Deputy Mayor Cara Hunter: I've had to deal with months of insults, abuse and suggestive messages... but they won't put me off doing the job

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SDLP Councillor Cara Hunter. Credit: Martin McKeown

SDLP Councillor Cara Hunter. Credit: Martin McKeown

SDLP Councillor Cara Hunter. Credit: Martin McKeown

The Deputy Mayor of Derry and Strabane Cara Hunter (24) has told how she has been subjected to months of sexual and misogynistic abuse online - something she says too many female politicians have to endure.

Among the abuse the SDLP councillor has faced were demands she remove her "pompous Miss World election posters" from Portrush, men calling her an "SDLP b****", "w****" and comments about her figure, hair and make-up.

She has also faced demands from male constituents for home visits which resulted in insults and abuse when she refused.

Ms Hunter said that her experiences have made her acutely aware of the dangers facing women in local politics and has called for Stormont to put in place policies that give better protection to female councillors.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Ms Hunter said: "This, and it is not just an SDLP issue, it is not just Cara Hunter, is a much wider issue that affects women from all political parties which needs to be addressed.

"There needs to be a conversation in Stormont about safety for councillors who don't have protection of their own offices where they can carry out business. I represent a very rural DEA of Castlederg and I think it should be within my prerogative to refuse a house visit if I feel uncomfortable about it.

"One such incident was a man - a middle aged man - who rang me constantly requesting a home visit about an issue which I told him I could resolve through telephone calls and there was no need for me to go to his house.

"This wasn't acceptable but if you refuse these types of visits you are called all kinds of names."

Ms Hunter said the abuse she is subjected to is often more overt than demanding home visits. She continued: "It is the sexually suggestive messages that are extremely difficult to deal with and I have reported these to the police.

"In one incident a man referred to my election posters as a 'Miss World mugshot' before he went on to say there was no place for me in Portrush because Portrush wasn't republican, but others have bombarded me with abuse that was very sexual, very aggressive - calling me an 'SDLP b****', 'w****' and it is these I find extremely difficult to deal with."

It saddens me because I love my job as a councillor but when I look at my male colleagues they are not subjected to comments about their figure or their looks Councillor Cara Hunter

Despite the vitriol and pleas from her parents to give up politics, Ms Hunter said she is determined to continue with the job she loves.

"My parents asked me to step down from politics but where does it end, does every woman step down until there are no female politicians?" she adds.

"It saddens me because I love my job as a councillor but when I look at my male colleagues they are not subjected to comments about their figure or their looks.

"Going into politics I had anticipated I would meet people who didn't agree with my party politics or council vision and I was prepared for that but it was men saying things like they like a woman with big hips that I found so offensive.

"So much of my day is spent trying to help the people I represent but when all that is being highlighted is my body shape, my hair, make-up it makes me sad but it frustrates me so much.

"All the hard work is overshadowed by lustful messages that just keep coming even at 2am or 3am. I don't respond to them and I have blocked them on social media but they just keep coming.

"Despite it all I refuse to allow these men to put me off doing the job I love but steps need to be put in place that protect women in politics better."

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