Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
Last week Alex Salmond, former First Minister and accused sex predator, was acquitted of 13 charges against him, including sexual assault and attempted rape. This happened during a global pandemic, where two of Salmond’s 15 jurors were absent and could not pass judgement. This also happened shortly after convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein’s long-awaited sentencing, and therefore lots of us were expecting similar justice for wronged women against another powerful man.
Though he was proven innocent by a court, we cannot ignore than in granting Salmond’s innocence, we are condemning the nine women who put themselves at risk by testifying against him, as liars. We must acknowledge the difficulty these anonymous women faced, many of whom also work in parliament, in standing up to a man who was formerly the leader of Scotland. What’s more, we cannot ignore the fact that Salmond’s own lawyer described him as a ‘sex pest’ and a ‘bully’, and yet he was proclaimed innocent by the court in which said man defended him?
Salmond himself is claiming that these accusations were all part of a political ‘witch hunt’ against him, led by the likes of current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. What he fails to acknowledge, here, is the emotional turmoil involved in women coming forward after sexual assault. These nine women are highly unlikely to have done this as part of a staged witch hunt, at the potential expense of their careers, reputations, and the fallout for other victims.
Incidentally, these women – after a heartbreaking conclusion to their own personal trials – have written an open letter expressing their devastation at the verdict, and yet are still encouraging other women to speak out about what has happened to them. Despite the not-guilty verdict and despite one of Salmond’s lawyers describing their accusations as ‘trivial’, these women will not be disheartened. They are an absolute testament to the bravery of women around the world who are faced with similar hardships. Particularly during this precarious time in which many women are undeniably in danger in their government-sanctioned staying at home, we need women like this. Without the sound of each other’s voices as support, we will never be heard.
What is now to be hoped is that this letter will cause problems for sexual predators everywhere, though particularly in the political sector. It is not unknown that there have been countless incidents of ‘workplace indecency’, even in parliament. However, this must be acknowledged as what it is: sexual harassment, sexual assault; it is not being too ‘touchy-feely’, and these are not trivial complaints. It is up to everyone to ensure accusations that take a great deal of courage and emotional turmoil for women to bring to the fore are listened to and dealt with.
For a start, we cannot let Salmond back into office. Though he was proven innocent, again we remember that his own lawyer did not believe his innocence, and we must never forget that 9 women came forward, all with their own accusations towards one man. Whatever this is, it is not a coincidence, and to allow him back into a position of power would send a terrible message to everyone. Can Nicola Sturgeon, a woman who prides herself on her harsh stance on violence against women, really have that message on her conscience?