‘MeToo’ complaints still haunt parties

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Several of Norway’s political parties are still tackling complaints filed in the wake of last winter’s international “MeToo” campaign against sexual harassment. The Conservatives have cracked down on offenders, while Labour and a few other parties are accused of letting their errant politicians off too easily.

John-Ragnar Aarset, secretary general of teh Conservative Party, has dealt with the largest number of complaints over sexual harassment, with the party reacting firmly against offenders. PHOTO: Høyre

The Conservatives have reported a total of 35 complaints of sexual harassment and they’ve concluded handling the cases, with negative consequences for those charged. Party officials found violations of the party’s own ethical guidelines in nearly all the cases filed.

“Our reaction has included everything from written warnings to the loss of duties and positions in the party,” John-Ragnar Aarset, secretary general of the party, told news bureau NTB. The 35 complaints were filed against a total of 21 people, indicating that some of them were the targets of several complaints.

Most prominent among them was the former leader of the Conservatives’ youth group, Kristian Tonning Riise, now a 29-year-old Member of Parliament representing the party. The party can’t strip him of a publicly elected post, but he has been banned from major party meetings and social gatherings and his participation has been restricted in other events. Nor will the Conservatives allow him to be spokesperson for the party on any issues and he’s lost all other positions of trust within the party.

That’s in sharp contrast to how Labour is allowing its most high-profile offender, Trond Giske, to take part in public debates, represent the party as a spokesman and attend social functions as though nothing had happened. Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre’s refusal to ban him from this week’s annual summer party has fueled tensions within the party, led some women who’d complained about Giske’s harassment to feel excluded from the party themselves and resulted in their advocate going out on sick leave after a reportedly harsh scolding from Støre.

Trond Giske remains a controversial figure with Labour, with some feeling he hasn’t shown enough humility towards those filing complaints of sexual harassment against him. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Giske, who thinks he has been punished by being stripped of his role as deputy leader of the party, remains “the elephant in the room,” wrote political commentator Arne Strand in newspaper Dagsavisen over the weekend. Many Labour politicians are fed up with all the internal drama and want to move forward, while others think Giske’s rehabilitation is proceeding far too quickly. “Giske could have helped by showing more humility over the decision to remove him as deputy leader, showing more empathy for those who complained about his “inappropriate behaviour” and keeping a lower profile,” Strand wrote. “When he doesn’t do that, it’s understandable that others react.”

Aarset of the Conservatives and party leader and prime minister Erna Solberg have been portraying more concern for the victims of harassment than the powerful politicians who committed it. “Many people have experienced things within our party that they never should have,” Aarset told NTB. “All those complaining have been followed up as well as we can manage. We have listened to them and they have been offered help from a psychologist or legal assistance. Our goal is that cases have been concluded in a way viewed as reasonable by both sides.”

Other parties dealing with harassment, too
The Socialist Left (SV) and Center parties, meanwhile, are still dealing with complaints of sexual harassment, and SV has been hit with some new cases. NTB reported that the Center Party, caught in one of the ugliest cases late this winter,  has received a total of 15 complaints, 13 of which have been handled. The party’s secretary general, however, wouldn’t reveal the consequences for offenders. None of the men involved in the most high profile harassment of former party leader Liv Signe Navarsete were stripped of their roles in the party although Ola Borten Moe voluntarily stepped aside as a deputy party leader.

SV has reacted differently, by banning one offender from party events. Two new cases are pending. Labour won’t reveal how many new cases, in addition to that against Giske, have been reported in recent months but they’re believed to amount to more than 20.

The Liberals have received six complains of sexual harassment over the past five years “with varying degrees of seriousness.” All of them have been handled and concluded, with various forms of punitive reaction, according to party secretary general Marit Meyer.

The Christian Democrats have had one complaint and two “expressions of concern,” while the Progress Party has received nine complaints. The most serious was against MP Ulf Leirstein, who also retains his seat in Parliament but resigned his post as spokesman for the party on justice policy.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund