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May urged to change law to ban politicians who promote rape or violence

Prime Minister Theresa May has been called on to help stamp out the abuse of women in politics.

Prime Minister Theresa May at the unveiling of the statue of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Prime Minister Theresa May at the unveiling of the statue of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Politicians promoting rape or violence should be given a lifetime ban, according to a new petition.

Prime Minister Theresa May has been urged to change the law to stamp out the abuse of women in politics.

MPs including Labour’s Jess Phillips, Conservative Nicky Morgan and the Greens’ deputy leader Amelia Womack have all signed up.

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Jess Phillips MP (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

A letter, drafted by The Fawcett Society and published by HuffPost UK, is also signed by feminist campaigners including Caroline Criado-Perez.

Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society chief executive, said: “By permitting candidates who behave in this way we are giving them a platform to encourage and mobilise others.

“Women, black and ethnic minority people, those from certain religious groups or those who are LGBT are all more likely to be targeted with abuse. We cannot allow this to be the norm.

“There is currently nothing to stop someone who promotes rape or violence standing to be an MP, MEP, local councillor or a Police and Crime Commissioner.”

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Caroline Criado-Perez, left, with Prime Minister Theresa May (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The law does not currently disqualify candidates with a track record of issuing threats.

But campaigners, including 90,000 who have signed an online petition, are demanding tougher sanctions for those who intimidate women in public life.

The Fawcett Society wants a new offence of intimidation of election candidates to be extended, with a statutory code of conduct for candidates and “tough penalties” which they all sign up to.

The society has flagged up how swift action has been taken against protesters throwing milkshakes over right-wing figures but women suffering abuse often failed to get the same protection.

For too long it has been in the hands of political parties to vet who is appropriate to stand for election Jess Phillips

Jess Phillips has been repeatedly targeted by Ukip’s European election candidate Carl Benjamin, who is now under investigation by police.

In 2016 he tweeted “I wouldn’t even rape you”, to Ms Phillips, and went further in a video on his YouTube channel in April, saying he “might cave”.

He said: “There’s been an awful lot of talk about whether I would or wouldn’t rape Jess Phillips.

“I suppose with enough pressure I might cave, but let’s be honest nobody’s got that much beer.”

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Ukip election candidate Carl Benjamin (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Birmingham Yardley MP revealed she had broken down in tears in Birmingham city centre when she heard about his comments, “just because I felt the enormous weight of years and years and years of abuse”.

On the day the police investigation was announced earlier this month, the MP also revealed that a man had followed her as she left the Commons, asking why Mr Benjamin should not be able to “joke” about her rape, shouting “I pay your wages”.

Ms Phillips said: “For too long it has been in the hands of political parties to vet who is appropriate to stand for election.

“I have found personally that that has allowed a man who makes videos about if he would or wouldn’t rape me be selected to stand for a legitimate political party.

“This is damaging to women’s representation but to our politics as a whole.

“The Government must join in and seek to ensure that this cannot happen.”

Ms Morgan added: “It cannot be right that any person who thinks threatening another with rape or violence is in any way acceptable is then allowed to stand for elected office.

“Actions have consequences and threatening rape or violence should never be normalised.”

A Government source said “intimidation and abuse towards those in public life is inexcusable”.

They added: “That’s why we are legislating to bar people found guilty of this kind of behaviour during the build-up to an election from running for office for up to five years.

“This follows recommendations from the public, political parties and independent electoral bodies – 71% of which were in favour of introducing this.

“Intimidatory or abusive behaviour is a crime, which in extreme cases is already punishable with a custodial sentence.”

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