November 15, 2018 / 7:58 PM / 25 days ago

Women's campaigner outraged at lifting ban on British lord in harassment scandal

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A leading women’s rights campaigner who went public to name a British lord for sexual harassment expressed outrage on Thursday after his ban from the upper house of parliament was overturned, fearing it would stop other victims from coming forward.

Jasvinder Sanghera decided to waive her anonymity this week to name 82-year-old Lord Lester as the member of the unelected House of Lords who sexually harassed her 12 years ago, offering to make her a baroness if she had sex with him.

A parliamentary investigation found Lester had sexually harassed Sanghera and recommended that he be suspended until June 2022 - the longest such suspension in modern history.

Lester, 82, once an eminent human rights lawyer, denied the allegations and his ban was overturned in a vote by his fellow peers on Thursday. Lester could not be reached for comment.

Sanghera said she was outraged at the 101-78 vote to lift the ban and return the matter to the parliamentary committee.

“An abuser gets to go back to work today,” Sanghera told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

“What this tells me is this is sending a message out to victims of sexual harassment ... This has undermined the whole process.”

Britain’s parliament last year became embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal amid the #MeToo movement with two ministers losing their posts and others investigated over inappropriate behavior, prompting calls to end a “locker room” culture.

Earlier this year a study showed nearly one in five people working in Britain’s parliament were sexually harassed or witnessed inappropriate behavior in the past year.

Sanghera, a best-selling author and founder of the charity Karma Nirvana which campaigns against forced marriage, said she had kept quiet about the harassment for years because she doubted she would be believed.

Sanghera, who wrote about her escape from a forced marriage in her book “Shame”, told the investigation that the harassment happened when she was working with Lester on draft legislation 12 years ago.

The investigation found that Lester threatened “unspecified consequences” if she refused.

Sanghera said she was afraid that the decision to lift the ban would have a chilling effect on others thinking of coming forward to report harassment.

“What unfolded were my worst fears, right in front of my eyes,” she said.

“I was not there, there were not two people in that room. There was Lord Lester and his reputation. I felt I was being abused all over again.”

Lord McFall, senior deputy speaker of the House of Lords, expressed frustration with the result in a statement.

“I am deeply disappointed by today’s decision by the House to send the report into the conduct of Lord Lester back to the Privileges and Conduct Committee for further consideration,” he said.

Reporting By Jason Fields; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; 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

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