LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May said Thursday she was “appalled” by disclosures of an all-male charity party that saw drunken British businessmen and others groping young women hired as “hostesses.”
“I thought that sort of attitude of the objectification of women was something that was in the past,” May told Bloomberg Television at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, saying she was “frankly appalled” by the reports.
“Sadly, what that event showed is that there is still a lot more work for us to do,” the prime minister said.
May’s remarks underscored the domino-style fallout since the Financial Times printed an explosive exposé Wednesday on the Presidents Club Charitable Trust, which for 33 years has organized a men-only fundraising dinner at London’s exclusive Dorchester Hotel to benefit children’s causes.
About 360 men attended the party, served by 130 hostesses, who were invited to drink heavily and mingle with the guests at the dinner and “after parties” in the hotel bars.
The newspaper’s investigation said the young women, required to wear “sexy shoes” and “short tight black dresses,” were groped and propositioned. One older attendee pointedly asked a hostess if she was a prostitute. Other women were pulled onto the laps of braying guests and had men’s hands reaching under their skirts.
Hours after the newspaper’s report was made public, the charity announced it was closing and donating any remaining assets. Earlier, the club president, David Meller, resigned from a senior post in the Department of Education.
In Parliament, lawmakers piled on denunciations that were quickly splashed across social media under #MeToo and other movements drawing attention to abuses against women.
“It is quite extraordinary to me . . . in the 21st century that allegations of this nature are still emerging,” said Anne Milton, education minister in the Conservative government, during a session Wednesday.
The prime minister was asked by Bloomberg TV what should be done.
“This is about attitudes,” May said. “It’s about saying that actually women are not objects just to be used by men. Actuallym we are equals; we have our own position, our own abilities.”
May’s government has been rocked by its own “sex pest” scandals, including the resignation of her former defense secretary, Michael Fallon, who was accused of rubbing his hand on the knee of a popular British radio journalist at a dinner party in 2002. May’s de facto deputy, Damian Green, was also investigated for having pornography on a work computer.
In a round of interviews, however, May defended Nadhim Zahawi, her government’s minister for children and families, who attended the charity dinner.
May told the BBC in Davos: “I understand that Nadhim Zahawi left early from that particular event.”
Pressed if Zahawi should have been there at all, May sidestepped the question. “I’m not happy with an event of that type taking place,” she said. “What worries me is that it is not just about that event; it is what it says about this wider issue in society about attitudes to women.”
Among the prizes auctioned off to the attendees was a luncheon with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. The prime minister’s spokesman told the Guardian that Johnson had initially donated his time for another charity auction, but the gift of a lunch had been transferred without his knowledge.
The Financial Times investigation also revealed that the hostesses, who were paid about $200 for the night, were required to sign without reading long and legalistic nondisclosure agreements.
The prime minister’s office said it will review how nondisclosure agreements are used in light of the Presidents Club scandal. It did not say how the agreements might be studied or what the government might do to regulate them.
In the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment and assault scandal, the Hollywood producer and his lawyers often secured women’s silence by employing nondisclosure agreements.