European Union lawmakers accused parliamentarians of failing to protect staff from sexual harassment on Wednesay, as fallout from Hollywood's Harvey Weinstein scandal finally reached the doors of Brussels' most notable institutions.
Debating an emergency motion calling for greater enforcement of gender-equality laws and sanctions against abuse in EU workplaces, members of the European Parliament demanded the legislature stop turning a blind eye to "disgusting" practices by their own colleagues.
"Here, today, in the very heart of European democracy, we have women being molested and harassed," Polish member Jadwiga Wisniewska told the chamber. "This is unimaginable."
Recent revelations about the sexual misconduct of Weinstein, an Oscar-winning film producer, have triggered intense scrutiny of the issue not just within the US but around the world.
Several MEPs held signs bearing the Twitter hashtag #metoo. "I have been sexually harassed, just like millions of other women in the European Union," German member Terry Reintke said. "It is about time that we very clearly say that we should not be ashamed. The perpetrators should be ashamed."
"We've all heard the stories and rumors going on for many years," Britain's Margot Parker said during the debate in Strasbourg, the Brussels-based parliament's second home. "The very place that claims to legislate against this sort of disgusting behavior is turning a blind eye to its practice."
Earlier this week, EU Parliament President Antonio Tajani spoke of his "shock and indignation" after a Sunday Times report cited more than a dozen, mostly young, female parliamentary aides reporting groping, stalking and other harassment committed by male lawmakers.
He pledged to step up existing protections in order to encourage more people to come forward, a move campaigners say is long overdue.
"It comes as no surprise to those of us working for years on the fight to end violence against women that sexual harassment is also widespread throughout the EU institutions," said the European Women's Lobby, another Brussels-based organization. "There are still inadequate means to ensure that women feel safe enough to come forward to report incidents."
At the European Commission - the executive branch of the EU, which employs 32,000 people, 55 percent of them women - measures have been in place since 2006 to prevent harassment and protect whistleblowers.
Over the past five years, an average of 13 complaints have been made each year, with disciplinary sanctions imposed in four cases, according to Commission figures. But European Women's Lobby Secretary-General Joanna Maycock told Reuters that number seemed "very low," considering the size of the workforce.
The Commission's gender-equality chief, Czech Commissioner Vera Jourova, said last week that she too had been a victim of sexual harassment, and that "stigmatization" prevents many women in Brussels from speaking up. The Weinstein affair was, she said, the "peak of the iceberg."
Jourova was speaking to Brussels' Politico news service, which has set up a confidential website. So far, it has received more than 30 allegations of abuse - including rape - connected to the European Parliament in just one week, from both men and women.