Wales politics

'Politician put his hand on my thigh' - BBC journalist

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Media captionBBC Wales political journalist Elliw Gwawr tells of her own experiences in Cardiff Bay and Westminster

As claims of sexual harassment in Parliament dominate the headlines, a BBC Wales political journalist tells of her own experiences in Cardiff Bay and Westminster.

Elliw Gwawr says she was the subject of unwanted advances by politicians.

She said she wanted to speak out to give others the confidence to do the same.

It comes as allegations of inappropriate behaviour led to the resignation of the defence secretary.

Gavin Williamson was appointed to replace Sir Michael Fallon on Thursday.

Assembly presiding officer Elin Jones has ordered a review, but says comprehensive safeguards are in place.

'It came as a shock'

As someone who has worked in politics for many years, the recent allegations of sexual harassment and improper behaviour by some politicians hasn't surprised me at all.

The Westminster rumour mill is always rife with these kinds of stories, but you never know how much truth there is to them.

But if you bring up the subject amongst women who work here, quite a few will have their own stories of uncomfortable or unpleasant experiences with politicians.

I too have been in a situation where a politician has behaved improperly towards me.

As a young journalist working at the Welsh Assembly, an older and married politician put his hand on my thigh in the back of a taxi, in a way that suggested he wanted to take things further.

It came as quite a shock, but I quickly moved his hand away and told him to stop.

We never spoke about the matter again, but it was an uncomfortable experience and I was relieved to get out of the confines of the taxi at the end of the journey.

Image caption Elliw Gwawr has worked in Cardiff Bay and Westminster

I had another experience some years later when I had moved to work in Westminster.

I was having a drink with a group of politicians, which isn't uncommon in my line of work, but when I said I had to leave to catch my train home, one of them suggested I forgot about the train and went to stay in his flat instead.

I told him quite clearly how inappropriate his offer was, making clear that I wouldn't be going anywhere near his place.

I realise that neither of these two incidents are very serious in themselves, and that there are women and men who have had worse experiences than me.

But I wanted to talk about my experiences too, because it is an example of the culture in Westminster, and in the Welsh Assembly, and the conditions women like me have to work in.

'Not something I should expect'

My experience was uncomfortable and unacceptable, but I didn't complain at the time, because what would be the point and to whom would I complain?

I also didn't want to make a fuss about something I felt was happening to everyone in my line of work, and that I should be strong enough to deal with these types of experiences.

It isn't something I think about much, but as more and more women have spoken out about their experiences I started to realise that this wasn't something I should expect as part of my work.

Why should politicians treat me differently to the men who do the same job?

I realise the first question everyone will ask is who was responsible, but I'm not going to name any names.

I don't think my experiences are serious enough, but also I fear concentrating on individuals rather than their actions distracts from the bigger picture, and what it is that needs to change.

Because if people are serious about tackling the culture that allows this to happen, women and men need to feel they can be open about their experiences.

Although I completely understand why so many are reluctant to do that.

But by speaking now I hope I can give others the confidence to speak out too.

Because if we keep ignoring inappropriate behaviour then we are reinforcing this culture where people in positions of power feel they can behave however they like with little or no repercussions.

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