The office of the British Prime Minister has urged staff in the UK parliament to come forward with any allegations of sexual harassment after reports that aides were privately sharing stories alleging inappropriate conduct by lawmakers.
Theresa May’s spokeswoman said that any allegation would be taken very seriously and urged victims to report misconduct to the police.
The statement came after a report in Friday’s Sun newspaper that female researchers and aides in Westminster were sharing allegations of sexual harassment on WhatsApp.
The paper reported female employees were using the messaging service to warn colleagues away from certain lawmakers, including members of May’s Cabinet.
The news comes in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the launch of the #MeToo campaign, where victims of sexual abuse share their experiences online.
Asked about the Sun’s story on Friday, the Downing Street spokeswoman said that “any reports of sexual harassment are deeply concerning.”
“The Prime Minister was very clear when we responded to the reports about Harvey Weinstein in the last few weeks that any unwanted sexual behavior is completely unacceptable, and that is true in any walk of life – including politics,” she added.
“Any allegations that may come to light will be taken extremely seriously and we would advise people to contact the police if there is such an allegation so that it’s fully investigated.”
While Downing Street said it was unaware of any allegations having been formally reported, the spokeswoman said that any allegations against ministers would be taken “extremely seriously and serious action would be taken where it’s necessary.”
She also said that while in some instances allegations may not lead to a police investigation, a complaint could still be made to the House of Commons or one of the political parties.
In the UK parliament, lawmakers employ their own researchers and aides, and there is no central human resources system. In 2014, parliamentary authorities launched a harassment hotline, after a series of complaints by employees about the working environment in Westminster.
“All parties, all employers in any walk of life including politics, must take this seriously and must make sure staff are protected and looked after,” the Downing Street spokeswoman said.
“No industry or career area is immune to that, including politics.”