Rape threats and abuse are ‘part of pub­lic life for women’ Coun­cil­lor re­veals trolls made her ill as coun­cil marks cen­te­nary of women’s vote

Birmingham Post - - NEWS - Carl Jack­son Lo­cal Democ­racy Re­porter

ABIRMINGHAM coun­cil­lor be­came so ill from the stress of abu­sive on­line threats that she col­lapsed and ended up in hospi­tal.

Sin­gle mother-of-three Nicky Bren­nan re­vealed her daugh­ter had to call an am­bu­lance af­ter find­ing her passed out in the kitchen in the days af­ter a par­tic­u­larly abu­sive anony­mous email.

It warned her: “You’ll get what you de­serve bitch.”

The coun­cil­lor spoke about her ex­pe­ri­ence of abuse dur­ing a lively coun­cil de­bate about women in democ­racy, to mark the 100-year an­niver­sary of the women’s vote.

Sparkhill coun­cil­lor Bren­nan said: “It made me feel very un­safe. I was not sleep­ing, not eat­ing, I was in panic mode.

“It brought back a lot of thoughts and fears [about pre­vi­ous do­mes­tic abuse in­ci­dents]. I col­lapsed be­cause I was so ex­hausted and stressed out.”

Po­lice ad­vice to the coun­cil­lor was to ‘lay low’ while they in­ves­ti­gated the threat. They even of­fered to pro­vide an es­cort for her the next day when she took her chil­dren to and from school, an of­fer she de­clined.

“The po­lice ad­vised me not to go out in pub­lic, can­cel meet­ings and stay home. But I did not want any­one to think they could scare me off,” she said. “We don’t have enough women in pol­i­tics, enough young women in pol­i­tics and enough work­ing class women in pol­i­tics.”

It was not the first time the coun­cil­lor has en­dured on­line abuse.

She said: “It seems to be a reg­u­lar fea­ture of be­ing in pub­lic life for women. I have been threat­ened with rape and vi­o­lence, called stupid, called all sorts of swear­words.

“I’ve had hard­core pornog­ra­phy sent to me, usu­ally when I’ve been talk­ing about do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, or rape, or sex­ual as­sault.”

Cllr Bren­nan praised her ‘amaz­ing’ con­stituents who ral­lied round and en­sured she was never alone when car­ry­ing out surg­eries or at­tend­ing pub­lic meet­ings in the days fol­low­ing the email in­ci­dent.

“They re­ally looked af­ter me, it was amaz­ing,” she said.

She told the coun­cil: “The cul­ture of pol­i­tics must change to en­cour­age more women.

“We need more BAME [black, Asian and mi­nor­ity eth­nic] women, dis­abled women, LGBT women and es­pe­cially more work­ing class women.

“A lot of de­ci­sions are made by peo­ple who don’t know what im­pact they are hav­ing.

“I’m go­ing to ref­er­ence a bit of ‘grime’ which I don’t think we have had in the coun­cil be­fore. As Skepta says ‘We need some more girls in here’.”

Cllr Brigid Jones, deputy leader of the coun­cil, said the Suf­fragettes would be ‘turn­ing in their grave’ at the lack of women in pol­i­tics as she pre­sented an ac­tion plan de­signed to ad­dress the un­der­ly­ing de­ter­rents.

Just one in three mem­bers on the city coun­cil are women – 34 out of 101 – sim­i­lar to the na­tional ra­tio.

The prob­lem has been ex­ac­er­bated by the Bound­ary Com­mis­sion’s re­cent changes which saw sin­gle­coun­cil­lor wards in­tro­duced in Birm­ing­ham, ar­gued Cllr Jon Hunt (Lib Dem group leader, Perry Barr).

The pro­por­tion of fe­male coun­cil­lors fell by 19 per cent from 42 out of 120 coun­cil­lors fol­low­ing the lo­cal elec­tion ear­lier this year. The coun­cil has fol­lowed up on rec­om­men­da­tions made in two re­cent na­tional re­ports to come up with an ac­tion plan.

It also comes af­ter a parental leave pol­icy was ap­proved ear­lier this year which has al­ready ben­e­fited two coun­cil­lors.

Fur­ther pro­posed mea­sures in­clude re­view­ing the code of con­duct to in­clude a di­rec­tive that coun­cil­lors ‘ must not sex­u­ally ha­rass col­leagues’.

Other ideas range from work­ing with po­lice to tackle so­cial me­dia abuse and ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­ity for at­tend­ing meet­ings re­motely and vot­ing via Skype, although that would first re­quire a law change.

The coun­cil al­ready en­sures that women make up 50 per cent of the cab­i­net and scru­tiny chair po­si­tions

But Cllr Deirdre Alden blasted the coun­cil’s plan brand­ing it ‘hur­ried’ and ‘badly writ­ten’ declar­ing that ‘women de­serve bet­ter’.

She stated that she had never ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual ha­rass­ment in pol­i­tics, ar­gu­ing it must only be an is­sue within the Labour party and de­scribed the idea of manda­tory fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion as ‘pa­tro­n­is­ing’. Cllr Alden added: “I hate the idea that women are vic­tims or hard done by or need spe­cial help. “I do not con­sider women to be sec­ond-class cit­i­zens who need a help­ing hand.” Cllr Jones (Lab, Bourn­brook and Selly Park), who is also the only woman sit­ting on the West Mid­lands Com­bined Au­thor­ity cab­i­net, had the fi­nal word on the de­bate. She said: “I can’t dis­agree more with your view that there is not a prob­lem here. The ev­i­dence is star­ing us in the face. “You said women de­serve bet­ter than this re­port. Well, they de­serve bet­ter than us bury­ing our heads in the sand.”

It seems to be a reg­u­lar fea­ture of be­ing in pub­lic life for women. Coun­cil­lor Nicky Bren­nan

> Nicky Bren­nan, coun­cil­lor for the Sparkhill Ward, pic­tured on the Strat­ford Road in Sparkhill.

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