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That appalling Presidents Club event and the enduring ‘blame-the-victim’ culture.


After the recent Financial Times’ investigation into the appalling practices that have been occuring for decades at The Presidents Club charity events, some people still claim that female hostesses at the recent charity dinner weren’t actually sexually harassed.


Fresh after the dispute about Channel 4 presenter Cathy Newman’s complaint about misogynistic and abusive comments, following her interview on live TV with Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson, some people are again ‘blaming the victim’ on social media, claiming that because video evidence of the sexual harassment at The Presidents Club recent charity event has not been placed on the internet for all to see, there is simply no evidence, and thus the alleged sexual harassment never happened.



The Presidents Club ‘men only’ charity dinner takes place every year at London’s plush Dorchester Hotel. It is attended by top professionals from a range of sectors, including leading British bankers and businessmen, property developers and so on. The only women allowed in are specially recruited ‘hostesses.’

Following reports by hostesses who had previously worked at the event, going back over the last decade, that groping and sexual harassment was a regular experience during the course of the evening, two Financial Times (FT) journalists decided to investigate undercover, and they took video evidence to back up their claim. Understandably, only a section of this evidence has been broadcast on news programmes reporting the matter.

One of the FT journalists, Madison Marriage, the FT's accounting and tax correspondent, later appeared on a BBC News programme, where she described what had taken place at the event.



A total of 130 women were employed as hostesses for the annual ‘men only’ event, which has been running for 33 years. 360 male guests attended, though many of those left before the alleged sexual harassment took place. Marriage was warned beforehand that the men “might be annoying,” but she herself was groped on several occasions, and she said that several other hostesses informed her that they had been groped also. The groping included hands up skirts, hands on bums, on hips and stomachs, unexpected arms round waists. Marriage said that “one of the strangest things was that you could be talking to a man and he would suddenly be holding your hand.” She said that the reporters had heard from women who have worked at the venue over the last decade that such things went on, which is why the FT journalists decided to investigate the place.

Marriage said that there were plenty of hostesses who had absolutely no idea that this was the kind of event it would be. Shockingly, one hostess was asked if she was a prostitute, but actually, the hostesses largely consisted of female lawyers, marketing executives, film producers and other professional and ambitious young women. Some of the hostesses were also students, models, actors and dancers, who take hostess work on the side given that their main source of work is irregular.

One guest displayed his penis during the course of the dinner, according to one hostess. Another guest asked a hostess to “down that glass of Champagne, rip off her knickers and dance on the table.” It appears that other hostesses were asked to join diners in bedrooms. Several others were apparently harassed again at an after-party. All hostesses were required to wear “skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels.”



Despite that some women seem to enjoy all this, with some even being offered jobs during the event, Marriage said she couldn’t believe this sort of thing still goes on in 2018 and that it's quite shocking that it actually does. One hostess she spoke to told her that it was the “worst job she has ever done in her entire life.”

“If you want to run an event where women are voluntarily walking in there in the knowledge that they will be groped, then fine, make that clear in the hiring process,” Marriage said, “but that wasn’t made clear, and there were plenty of women in there who had absolutely no idea what they were letting themselves in for.”


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The response from donor organisations has been swift and merciless. Great Ormond Street Hospital, for example, has now said it will return all the donations it has received from the dinner. Evelina London Children’s Hospital has made a similar statement.

Non-executive director at the Department of Education, David Meller, has now terminated his government role helping to organise the event, after a direct request from Downing Street to do so. LibDem Deputy Leader MP Jo Swinson and Labour MP Jess Phillips have led a series of condemnations in the House of Commons, describing the event as a “horrendous example of rich men acting with disgusting entitlement” with “women used as bait.”



One post on Twitter, however, discussing the FT investigation, accused the newspaper of being “desperate.” The author of the tweet appears to believe that footage of women being groped and sexually harassed should be placed on the internet for all to see and that if it isn’t made available in such a way, then one should assume there is no such evidence and, thus, the incident probably never happened. According to them, the serious and professional FT investigation into sexual harassment was now no more than “sexual gossip.”



This position would seemingly seek to disregard the professionalism of a top global media publication — the Financial Times (FT) — as well as the professional practice of the journalists the paper sent in to investigate the event. Furthermore, it would also seek to discount both victim statements from some of the hostesses attending the event and eyewitness testimony of those who witnessed such harassment occurring. Both of which are, of course, accepted as evidence in virtually every court on the surface of the planet.

Another Twitter comment accused those of expressing outrage as acting like “feminazis,” while other tweets and radio guests appeared to blame the hostesses themselves, along the lines of ‘they knew what they were getting themselves into.’



Fortunately, on this occasion, a great many more people are rightly expressing their anger and indignation. The Head of the Charity Commission has also got involved, calling for an urgent meeting with The Presidents Club trustees.

By far the best news of all though is that The Presidents Club Charitable Trust has announced in the wake of the scandal that it is to close and that all the funds raised would now be distributed evenly among children’s charities.



Presumably, that will give the Alt-Right something else to moan about on Twitter, but on this occasion, ladies and gentlemen, it is a victory for taste and decency. Let there be many more.🔷




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(Cover: Flickr / Spanish Coches. The Dorchester Hotel, London, UK.)


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Freelance journalist with special interests in renewable energy, climate change, environmental issues and social justice, with a variety of other interests besides (e.g. transport).
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