Allegations of sexual harassment at the Presidents Club charity dinner have been the latest in a long line of sexual misconduct scandals. Claims have come to light this month after reporters at The Financial Times were tipped off by waitresses who had previously worked at the event. Allegations have included indecent exposal, groping and touching with one waitress being asked to take off her knickers. The male-only London event, currently in its 33rd annual year, is attended by prominent business leaders and members of parliament and is served by an all-female staff. Both Great Ormond Street hospital and Evelina London Children’s hospital will be returning all donations in light of events that took place on the night.
Waitresses employed by Arista were told to wear short dresses and high heels for work before being taken into hair and makeup where they were subsequently paraded on stage in front of guests. The fact that staff were made to sign non-disclosure agreements beforehand offers the explanation as to why it has taken 33 years for events at the black-tie evening to be revealed. This scandal begs the question why it is still acceptable in 2018 to exclude female representatives and professionals from public functions whilst demeaning women into subservient roles for male clientele. Not only do women serve men in these functions, they are sexualised and assaulted in order to extort money from guests. It is tragic enough that waitresses have been subjected to assault by men in positions of power, and we are now punishing some of the most vulnerable people in society by refunding charity donations. I fail to see the moral high ground in taking away vital support for charities – we should be punishing those men who feel they have the right to women’s bodies – not sick children.
The hypocrisy of men such as Mr Zahawi, who claimed to have felt so uncomfortable he left early, is truly unfathomable. A number of men who attended the event have since come forward to back up allegations despite failing to report harassment or intervene to protect these women. Mr Zahawi, a conservative MP, has since tweeted that he will no longer be attending the event. It speaks volumes that it takes an undercover journalist from the Financial Times to uncover the sexual misconduct that took place. It appears in the face of public scrutiny many are willing to condemn the actions of others but unable to take responsibility for their own.
The Evening Standard has since quoted Caroline Dandridge, the CEO of Arista, who stated, “There is a code of conduct that we follow, I am not aware of any reports of sexual harassment and with the calibre of guest, I would be astonished”. I find it a shame Ms. Dandridge associates wealth and power with the ability to assault women. I believe it is these kinds of ignorant and naïve opinions that have made it hard in preceding decades for women to excuse men in positions of power of sexual assault. Furthermore, I find it astonishing she feel the need to be so surprised that her employees have been harassed when she has encouraged the attendees to see them in a sexualised manner. In fact, if she wasn’t trying to entice men, why did Ms. Dandridge feel the need to employ an all-female staff?
Whilst the issue of sexual misconduct has become a hot topic in the media over the past year, I think it serves an important message. We must stop seeing groping as normal and feel comfortable in calling it what it is, sexual assault. No woman should be forced to wear makeup and revealing clothing for work in the same vain that no woman should feel that by what she wears on a night out that she deserves to be assaulted. I hope by shaming those individuals that encouraged events that took place we will put a stop to such archaic events. It is important to reinforce the message that women are not objects or there to stroke the egos of the rich and wealthy. This should serve as a junction towards moving to a time where women receive the respect they deserve, in and out of the workplace.