LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A leading women’s rights campaigner, who said she was offered a title in return for sleeping with a member of Britain’s unelected upper chamber, has urged other victims of sexual harassment to speak out after waiving her right to anonymity.
A parliamentary investigation found that Lord Lester, a member of the House of Lords, sexually harassed Jasvinder Sanghera, offered her “corrupt inducements to sleep with him” and threatened “unspecified consequences” if she refused.
Lester, 82, has denied the allegations.
A parliamentary committee has recommended he be suspended until June 2022 - the longest such suspension in modern history.
Sanghera, a best-selling author and founder of the charity Karma Nirvana which campaigns against forced marriage, told the investigation that the harassment happened when she was working with Lester on draft legislation 12 years ago.
She said the peer offered to put her up for the night after she missed her train following a late meeting in parliament.
In the car to his house, Sanghera said he repeatedly groped her thigh despite her protests.
After Lester’s wife left for work in the morning, Sanghera said he put his arms around her waist as she stood at the sink, and she pushed him away.
“Again, he placed his arms around me and further up my body. I had to force myself away. He pursued me around the kitchen and I pleaded with him to stop,” she told the investigation, which was set up following a complaint about Lester in 2017.
Not long after, she said Lester promised to make her a baroness “within a year” if she slept with him, but would ensure she never had a seat in the House of Lords if she refused.
“He said that if I was a ‘good girl’ and did what he was asking, I would be in the House of Lords,” she said.
Sanghera, who wrote about her escape from a forced marriage in her book “Shame”, said she had kept quiet about the harassment for years because she doubted she would be believed.
“I was acutely aware of the power imbalance. If I’d said anything, who would believe me?” she told The Times newspaper on Tuesday.
Although Sanghera is not identified in the committee’s report, she said it was important to speak out in order to break the silence.
“There needs to be a system in place that will give other victims the confidence to complain and to feel supported in doing so,” she told The Times.
The committee’s report comes a month after an independent inquiry found that a culture of deference and silence had allowed sexual harassment and bullying of staff to thrive in Britain’s parliament.
British lawmakers launched a separate inquiry on Tuesday to examine rules that allow employers to use confidentiality agreements to silence victims of workplace sexual harassment.
Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org