Violence against women in politics is a prevelant problem, but the conviction of a man in the Heidi Allen case suggests that it is finally being taken seriously.
Despite the amount of abuse that female MPs endure on a daily basis, it’s rare that we see real action being taken against the perpetrators. We’ve all heard the disgusting rape threats repeatedly made by UKIP candidate Carl Benjamin towards Labour MP Jess Phillips. And her fellow party member Dianne Abbott has spoken out a lot about the racial and sexist abuse she constantly endures.
But it took the murder of their friend and MP Jo Cox in 2016 to make Parliament wake up to the problem. Welsh Assembly member Delyth Jewell published an over-due report examining this in 2017, complete with recommendations.
Now, the conviction of a man who threatened former Conservative MP Heidi Allen suggests that the issue of violence against women in politics is finally being taken seriously.
After quitting the Tory party because of Brexit, pro-remainer Allen became the interim leader of Change UK until she left in June to stand as an independent.
Pro-Brexiter Ian Couch wrote “clearly threatening” tweets about Allen and posted aerial photos of her home on Facebook earlier this year. He also sent an email to the MP to tell her that people were asking for details about her home. The court heard that one of the tweets referenced showed a photo of the scaffolding around Allen’s home, captioned: “Maybe I should add a rope to my yellow vest order.”
According to a report in The Guardian, Judge Michael Snow described Couch’s actions as “terrifying” and “treacherous”. He added: “If people are too frightened, too intimidated, to stand as MPs then the quality of public life is significantly undermined. It has to be recognised in the context of it being a profound attack on democracy.”
The BBC also reported that in a statement read in court, Allen said she had felt scared to go out in her home village and had given up running outside as a result of the messages. “I struggled to sleep and was nervous of any noise, particularly at night,” she added. “I suddenly felt very exposed.”
Couch admitted two counts of sending offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing messages in January this year. He has now been given a 24-week sentence at Westminster Magistrates’ Court and was fined £120 for missing a previous hearing.
Of course, it would be nice to reach a point where no one is convicted for such behaviour simply because it isn’t happening. In the meantime, this kind of action helps to reiterate the message that it’s not OK.