Scotland: Parliament gathers data on sexual harassment at Holyrood

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Survey aims to uncover institutional ethos with wide-ranging questions on staff’s experiences from leers to unwanted contact.

Hundreds of Holyrood staff are being asked about their experiences of everything from sexual looks, leers and jokes to unwanted physical contact in a comprehensive survey that aims to uncover the institutional ethos of the Scottish parliament towards sexual harassment and sexist behaviour.
It is the first comprehensive data-gathering exercise from any parliament across the UK after last month’s revelations of historic sexual harassment and assault rocked both Westminster, Holyrood and the Welsh Assembly.
The wide-ranging survey was sent to 1,650 recipients working across Holyrood on Wednesday morning, including MSPs, their staff and interns, parliament and government staff, contractors and members of the media. It asks detailed questions about their experiences working at the Scottish parliament, but also in regional and constituency offices.
The survey covers experiences of both sexual harassment and sexist behaviour, ranging from unwanted text messages to persistent pressure to form an intimate relationship to unwanted physical contact.
It also allows bystanders to such behaviour to register their own experiences, by asking recipients if they have ever witnessed colleagues behaving in such a way.
There are a number of questions covering the institutional attitudes of the parliament, including: “Do you think that there is an atmosphere or culture in the parliament that discourages people to report their experiences of sexual harassment or sexist behaviour?” and “How confident are you that, if you reported an incident of sexual harassment or sexist behaviour, it would be treated seriously?”
In a letter urging as many people as possible to complete the survey, Holyrood’s presiding officer, Ken Macintosh and chief executive, Paul Grice, said: “The parliament takes a zero tolerance approach to harassment and sexual misconduct and, through the establishment of the dedicated help line and the commissioning of this survey, is working hard to tackle concerns raised and any underlying causes.”
The letter also noted that, over the lifetime of the Scottish parliament the number of reported cases of sexual harassment had been very low, while the number of calls to the helpline established after last month’s revelations remains in single figures.
The survey was developed by parliamentary officials, with input from Emma Ritch, the head of Scotland’s leading equalities organisation Engender, and from the independent market research company Progressive. Progressive will administer the survey on the Scottish parliament’s behalf and carry out an independent analysis of the results which Macintosh and Grice have committed to making public after an initial review. This is expected in March next year.
Meanwhile, party investigations are ongoing into the suspensions of two MSPs after allegations of sexual harassment. Three weeks ago the SNP suspended Mark McDonald, the former Scottish government minister who resigned his cabinet post after admitting “inappropriate” behaviour towards women. In the same week, Scottish Labour suspended Alex Rowley, who stepped aside as its interim leader after his former partner made a series of claims about his behaviour during and after their relationship. The SNP also has one other investigation ongoing into a party member who is not an MSP.


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