Petition calls for ban on politicians 'promoting rape or violence'
'Surely anyone who issues threats of rape of violence or who incites hatred is not fit to stand for elected office?' says petition
A petition has called for politicians who “promote rape or violence” to be banned from standing for office for their whole lives.
The petition, which was launched by prominent women’s rights organisation the Fawcett Society, has garnered over 65,000 signatures.
It comes after West Midlands Police said they were investigating Carl Benjamin, a far-right agitator and Ukip European elections candidate, in relation to repeated comments he made about raping Labour MP Jess Phillips.
Mr Benjamin, a vlogger who goes by the name Sargon of Akkad online who is standing for the right-wing party in the South West region, tweeted Ms Phillips in 2016 after she discussed rape and death threats sent to women on the internet.
“I wouldn’t even rape you, @jessphillips,” he wrote. He has since been banned from Twitter.
Mr Benjamin doubled down on the remark after being selected as a Ukip candidate for this month’s election, defending the “joke” and refusing to “apologise for my crimes against political correctness”.
In a video posted on YouTube late last month, he said: “There’s been an awful lot of talk about whether I would or wouldn’t rape Jess Phillips. I’ve been in a lot of trouble for my hardline stance of not even raping her. I suppose with enough pressure I might cave. But let’s be honest nobody’s got that much beer.”
The petition notes that evidence demonstrates women face repeated threats of rape and sexual assault on social media platforms.
It adds: “Black and minority ethnic people are disproportionately targeted with hate speech, violence and abuse. Women candidates at local and national level are particularly targeted. We know that this is deterring some women from standing. Yet some of those responsible for issuing these threats have then gone on to stand for election themselves.
“Surely anyone who issues threats of rape of violence or who incites hatred is not fit to stand for elected office? Yet our law currently permits it and only disqualifies those with a criminal record, on grounds of bankruptcy or corrupt electoral practices (eg re political donations). This means candidates with a track record of abusive conduct can still end up on the ballot paper.”
The petition goes on to argue that in inviting the electorate to vote for those individuals, we are ultimately both “endorsing and legitimising their conduct”.
“This has to change,” the petition adds. “We at the Fawcett Society are calling for a lifetime ban from standing for elected office to apply in these cases. It is time to defend our democracy and promote equality, not hate.”
Sam Smethers, who started the petition and who is the Fawcett Society’s chief executive, told The Independent they were “thrilled” the petition had garnered so much support so quickly but noted that they needed more signatures to ”keep the pressure on”.
She added: “There is so much at stake. We must stand against those who promote rape and violence, and threaten our democracy.”
Ms Smethers tweeted: “Some people are asking why I'm proposing a **lifetime ban**. The truth is it has to be a meaningful penalty to be effective. It has to hurt. I would also add a sig[nificant] fine for political parties who select these candidates or fail to deselect them if relevant evidence comes to light.”
A major study by Amnesty International at the end of last year revealed that 1.1 million “abusive or problematic tweets” were sent to the women in the study across 2017 – one every 30 seconds on average.
The report into harassment against women on Twitter found that women of colour were 34 per cent more likely to be targets of hate speech than white women. Meanwhile, black women specifically were 84 per cent more likely to be mentioned in abusive tweets.
The human rights organisation described Twitter as a “toxic place” for women after years of relentless abuse, threats and harassment on the social media site.
Ms Phillips, who is frequently targeted with abuse, spoke about the impact of Mr Benjamin’s comments on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire Show.
She said: “I realised that I did what all women do in these situations – I had been putting a brave face on it and pretending that it was all fine and that I could cope.
“It sort of dawned on me that, for four years essentially, this man had made a career out of harassing me. And I felt harassed. I felt, ‘How can somebody say that they would rape me if forced, and be a legitimate candidate in an election?’”