Second woman claims she was raped by colleagues while working at CBI

Posted: 21st April 2023

Source: The Guardian

Exclusive: Another female employee complained she was stalked by a male colleague in 2018 at the business lobbying group.

A woman has alleged that she was raped by two male colleagues when she worked at the Confederation of British Industry.

The woman told the Guardian the incident took place when she was employed at an overseas office of Britain’s most prominent business lobby group.

She said she blamed the culture at the CBI for having no support after what she claims happened to her.

This is the second woman to claim she was the victim of rape at the CBI – it follows another member of staff who alleged she was raped by a manager on a 2019 summer boat party on the River Thames.

Separately, the Guardian has been told that a woman based at the organisation’s London office was stalked by a male colleague in 2018. Sources said he followed her in person and tracked her online, and that when she complained the CBI launched an investigation.

It is understood the CBI upheld a finding of harassment.

However, sources claim the woman was actively discouraged from reporting the stalking to the police and the alleged perpetrator retained his job.

The CBI says it has reported further allegations to the police.

Last week the City of London police launched an investigation into a series of allegations made by more than a dozen women about misconduct by managers at the CBI.

The alleged rape victim approached the Guardian after reading claims made by other women who worked at the CBI.

She said had “nowhere to turn” with her allegations at the time because of what she felt was a lack of human resources support for workers outside the CBI’s London headquarters.

After a night of drinking with colleagues, the woman claims she woke up with the two men in the same room as her.

She has no recollection of consenting to sexual activity with either man and described in detail how physical signs led her to believe she was raped. She claims the men later made remarks that suggested they had engaged in sexual activity with her that she could not remember.

The alleged victim has also claimed that she was presented – in the office – with an image of herself where she appeared to be unconscious.

It showed a penis in her mouth, which she understood to have been that of one of her male colleagues who she claims raped her. She said she believed this photograph, which the Guardian has seen, was taken at the same time as the alleged rape.

A second source claimed they recalled her being given the photograph, which they also saw and independently confirmed the contents of.

“Lots of people get raped. I don’t blame the CBI for being raped. I was really young and people took advantage of me after a night of drinking,” the alleged rape victim said.

“I blame the CBI for an atmosphere that was allowed to feed into people’s sense of confidence. That they could act in this way and afterwards feel no worries, no fears of consequences. That they could feel somehow proud, in an office.

“That there wasn’t a person for me to speak to in HR who I knew of and could trust.

“I want to say to other women or men at the CBI that they do great work. I hope they understand why I wanted to speak about it; what happened to me.”

To protect the woman’s identity the Guardian is choosing not to report the date of the alleged incident or the precise international office that it relates to.

The CBI, which claims to represent 190,000 businesses, including Lloyds Bank and HSBC, and has regular interactions with the government, has been plunged into turmoil by the volume and gravity of the allegations.

The government has suspended engagement with the group while the law firm Fox Williams conducts an investigation into them.

The business lobby group issued a public statement on Thursday and passed information to the police about the Guardian’s inquiry ahead of publication.

The statement said: “Late yesterday afternoon the CBI was made aware of additional information relating to a report of a serious criminal offence.” It added that the CBI was “liaising closely” with the police.

Sources familiar with the same international office claim that there was a broader problem with harassment of junior female staff that fed into a toxic culture and hiring processes. HR matters were handled at that office informally, often with little contact with the lobby group’s London headquarters, they allege.

The separate stalking allegation has been confirmed by the CBI.

The female employee complained in 2018 that she was being stalked by a male colleague online and in person. The CBI said it undertook an internal investigation and a finding of harassment was upheld. However, sources familiar with the complaint claim that the woman was actively discouraged from reporting the harassment to the police.

Sources said the woman was asked to move desks and to avoid the alleged stalker at work. She was told by HR to leave the office at a different time to the alleged stalker, the Guardian understands.

The CBI said that a sanction was imposed and the matter concluded and that there was no record of a desire on the part of the complainant to report the matter to the police.

The alleged stalker retained his role and left at a later date for unrelated reasons, the Guardian understands.

It is claimed that he admitted to the HR investigation to having sexual and violent feelings towards her and had followed her home. It is understood that the woman was not informed.

The CBI said it had no information on these specific allegations about the alleged perpetrator’s sexual and violent feelings, and no evidence that people were discouraged from making police complaints.

The then CBI director general Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said she was not made aware of the complaint made in early 2018.

Fairbairn told the Guardian: “‘I am deeply shocked by this repulsive allegation. I have absolutely no awareness of a complaint of this nature being made. I have spent my career fighting for the safety and wellbeing of women in the workplace and tackling discrimination and unfairness.”

She added: “It is appalling that this potential allegation was not escalated. Any woman facing shocking abuse of this kind deserves immediate care, protection and the full support of her employer and the law.”

CBI president, Brian McBride, said in a statement: “These latest allegations put to us by the Guardian are abhorrent and our heart goes out to any women who have been victims of the behaviour that is described. While the CBI was not previously aware of the most serious allegations, it is vital that they are thoroughly investigated now and we are liaising closely with the police to help ensure any perpetrators are brought to justice.”

He added that the lobby group is expecting findings from the Fox Williams investigation “imminently”.

“The board will be communicating its response to this and other steps we are taking to bring about the wider change that is needed early next week,” McBride said.

Speaking earlier this week McBride said the fact staff members shared their complaints about sexual misconduct with the Guardian rather than with the CBI itself was a sign of the problems within the organisation.

“People decided to go to the newspapers and not speak to us directly, which in itself points to something wrong with our culture,” he said. “Why is it that people felt that they couldn’t stand up and come forward?”

The CBI was embroiled in a public spat earlier this week between McBride and its former director general Tony Danker after he was dismissed from his role last week. Danker’s conduct was part of a different investigation by Fox Williams that related to entirely separate allegations about his behaviour.

“The board lost its trust and confidence in his ability to lead the organisation and represent the CBI in public,” McBride said of Danker’s dismissal.

Danker said in an interview with the BBC on Tuesday that he felt he had been “the fall guy” for allegations unrelated to his own conduct and that his reputation had been “trashed”.


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