Women Who Exposed Culture of Sexual Harassment in Brussels Accused of ‘Populism’ and Damaging the EU’s Image

Europe
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Women who blew the whistle on the culture of sexual harassment in Brussels have been accused of “populism” and damaging the EU’s image.

Victims who exposed the European Union as “an absolute hotbed of sexual harassment” where officials and MEPs — some very advanced in years — would proposition, grope, and masturbate in front of young female staffers say the bloc’s institutions have been working to silence them and cover up the abuse.

Senior staff at one EU agency who were trained to handle abuse complaints told The Times they were instructed to intimidate women who considered reporting their harassment to the media, as it could be “detrimental to the interests” of the bloc.

“We were supposed to tell victims they should not speak to the press; if they did, the institution could take legal action since speaking to the media would be against staff regulations and could bring the employer into disrepute,” a source confessed.

Vladimír Manka, a member of the harassment committee, is said to have accused frustrated victims who went to the press of “populism” and damaging the EU’s reputation.

Jeanne Ponté, 27, who was victimised during her time as an MEP’s assistant, said complaints of sexual harassment were often dismissed by officials with reference to “different cultural backgrounds”.

“This is about law, not about mentalities,” she complained. “To touch someone’s arse means the same in any culture.”

Another woman, a Robert Schuman EU traineeship grad with two master’s degrees who worked in the European Parliament’s information office in Madrid, was “subjected to intense harassment by her boss, a man twice her age”, which “[culminated] in him forcibly kissing her and indecently touching her”, according to The Times.

She ran away in tears and signed off on sick leave, but parliamentary authorities ignored the case until she went to the ombudsman.

“At one point I was heard by a panel of six men, and I came with a friend who is a lawyer — simply to support me, not to represent me — but they were irritated and asked me why I had brought a lawyer,” she recalled.

“They were more worried about the reputation of parliament than about what had happened. Even now I can’t get myself to speak publicly about this. There still is guilt and shame. We still fear them. That’s how these men get away with it.”

Her harasser, who had been accused by several other young women, never faced disciplinary measures or legal action, but was “helped into early retirement”.

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