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Stylist’s Women of the Year 2017: The charity worker who spoke out about sexual harassment in politics

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Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
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Bex Bailey is a charity worker and Labour Party activist. In October of this year she spoke out about her rape at a political event in 2011 when she was just 19. At the time, Bex was advised by a senior party member to keep quiet as it might “damage” her career. Her courage meant the party is looking at how it handles sexual abuse and harassment allegations.

“Along with other women in the Labour Party, I started speaking out on rape and harassment a few years thought would have helped me, such as an independent agency we can report to, without feeling we’ll be penalised.

I’ve had messages from women who have experienced sexual assault and harassment – both people I know and people I don’t. Lots of women who have experienced sexual harassment as they’ve been trying to go about their day-to-day work, or been trying to have a nice time at the Christmas party, will know it’s widespread, but you can still feel quite alone in your experience – especially when you know that the man doing it has more power than you and you feel like you’ll be penalised if you say anything.

I think the #MeToo movement helped to break that feeling that you’re on your own, and was great at drawing attention to a problem that wasn’t getting a hearing. It went viral because sexual harassment is sadly so common and we are fed up.

Women like Ava Etemadzadeh, Jane Merrick, Kate Maltby and others have all been amazingly strong. And even before this, brave women like Ali Goldsworthy were speaking up about what they were experiencing in the Liberal Democrat Party and they weren’t listened to.”

Bex Bailey photographed for Stylist

“I know there are lots of incredibly brave women who have experienced awful things, and who will have found the last few months really hard. I know I was finding it hard even before I decided to speak out.

I think everyone who has spoken out has faced at least some backlash – especially on Twitter – and that shows how far there still is to go. Women don’t speak out because they fear they won’t be believed. So, the people who say to women – online, in papers, and to defend accused colleagues or friends – that they’re lying are doing incredible damage. That needs to stop.

I’m always hopeful that we will tackle sexual harassment and assault but we’re beyond the point of relying on hope. We need action. If 2017 has been the year of women speaking out, 2018 needs to be the year that people listen and act.

You’d think, now this issue is out in the open, things cannot go back to how they were. One thing is certain: we won’t stop fighting until we get action, not just words.” 

To celebrate the best in people, Stylist photographed and interviewed 10 heroic women – just a few of the many who served to inspire us all in 2017. To see the rest of our Women of the Year 2017, click here.

Photography: Mark Harrison.