After a Christmastime lunch in 2010, then-British Parliament member Mark Garnier handed his secretary cash and took her to a sex shop in the west end of London. He told her that he wanted her to go inside and purchase two vibrators, one for his wife and another for a woman in his constituency office.
Then, Caroline Edmondson told the Sun, Garnier stood outside the shop while she completed the purchase.
Another time, at a bar in front of other people, he told her: “You are going nowhere, Sugar T---.”
Edmondson’s claims about the employer she quit working for in 2010 spread across Britain, and then the world, on Sunday — part of a growing avalanche of sexual harassment accusations made against male British politicians by female colleagues.
Faced with a growing crisis, Britain’s cabinet office has launched an investigation to determine whether Garnier broke conduct rules, according to the Associated Press. Prime Minister Theresa May is scrambling to show the public that Britain's political leaders are assisting female colleagues who have silently endured sexual harassment — sometimes in offices down the hall or around the corner.
For his part, Garnier, who was first elected to Parliament in 2010 and appointed to May’s cabinet last year, acknowledged that the claims were true but dismissed his actions as harmless “hijinks.”
“I’m not going to deny it, because I’m not going to be dishonest,” he said, according to the AP. “I’m going to have to take it on the chin.”
The statement about his former secretary’s breasts was a reference to a popular BBC show, he said, adding that his conduct could be taken as “dinosaur behavior” but “absolutely does not constitute harassment.”
For those who have come forward and many, many others, the stories from London were an eye-rolling recognition that creepy guys exist in all careers, across all socioeconomic strata and even in the hallowed seat of British democracy.
The stories have different characters but similar themes: men in positions of power, and women who feel their institutions didn't do enough to protect them.
In London, the accusations are ensnaring politicians at the highest levels of government.
Stephen Crabb, a married member of Parliament whom one newspaper once deemed “the man likely to be your next Prime Minister,” admitted that he sent explicit text messages to a 19-year-old woman after her 2013 job interview, according to the Sunday Telegraph.
London media have circled around reports of a WhatsApp group by aides and researchers to warn female colleagues about members of Parliament who frequently grope staff in taxis or events where alcohol is served.
According to the Sun, one minister was branded “Not Safe In lifts” because of his behavior. Another was described as “handsy.” One message said a member of Parliament “needs a new researcher — can’t be a woman.”
May’s official spokeswoman said, “Any reports of sexual harassment were deeply concerning, and that is true in any walk of life, including politics.” She suggested, however, May will not pass judgment until the investigative process is completed.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn said systems need to be put in place to better protect female colleagues from harassing bosses.
“The prime minister has announced this morning that she supports, which I agree with her on, a process that the staff of any [member of Parliament], of any party, can and should report these matters to the House of Commons authority,” he said, according to the BBC. “Where there is an unequal power relationship in the workplace and women become vulnerable as a result of it, they have to be supported, they have to be protected.”
Claims of similar misconduct have been reported by women who used to work for the U.S. Congress.
As The Washington Post’s Michelle Ye Hee Lee reported, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) has urged former and current staffers to use the #MeTooCongress hashtag to share their stories of sexual harassment.
Thousands of #MeToo social media posts spread after the accusations about Weinstein, Lee reported, “sparking dialogue about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment.”
Speier said that when she was a congressional staffer, a chief of staff for then-Rep. Leo Ryan (D-Calif.) held her face and forcibly kissed her.
“I know what it’s like to keep these things hidden deep down inside. I know what it’s like to lie awake at night wondering if I was the one who had done something wrong,” Speier said, adding that Congress’s rules for dealing with harassing behavior is antagonistic to victims.
“It is not a victim-friendly process. It is an institution-protection process,” Speier recently told The Post. “I think we would find that sexual harassment is rampant in the institution. But no one wants to know, because they’d have to do something about it.”