Following physical threats, a county councilwoman feared for her life

Townsend, Samantha

After receiving physical threats while out campaigning, a councillor claimed she feared for her life.

In a persistent campaign of harassment, Samantha Townsend's abusers accused her of being a pedophile, according to testimony she provided to Durham County Council.

The Labour politician reportedly received a face-to-face threat that she would be dragged into the street and shot.

The Local Government Association (LGA) issued a warning that abuse is obstructing elected officials' ability to perform their duties.

According to a Durham County Council study from 2022, seven out of ten council members engaged in such behavior, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS).

Members decided to support the LGA's Debate Not Hate initiative during a meeting on Wednesday.

Since being elected, Ms. Townsend claimed she has become the target of harassment, including name-calling and fat-shaming.

The Shildon councillor claimed, "I have faced allegations of paedophilia both in public, around my kids, and online.

"Over the course of two years, a member of our community harassed me and other female Labour politicians on Twitter using eight to ten accounts that they created. ".

According to Ms. Townsend, such abuse made her fear for her life.

"This is absolutely true. Due to the abuse I was experiencing, some people were afraid to let me walk home by myself. ".

After Ms. Townsend shared her story and other council members related similar experiences, the council meeting erupted in applause.

Michelle Walton, a conservative, claimed that soon after she was elected last year, an "atrocious" hate-mail letter targeting her was posted to her Consett neighbors.

She informed the group of how it had impacted her family and alerted her son's school.

Due to the potential consequences, she said, Special Branch became involved. "It was really scary," she said.

"Thank goodness, nothing more has occurred, and those who were present at the time gave me excellent support. I was undoubtedly very afraid as a result, though. ".

The LGA claimed that the growing level of abuse that politicians are subjected to is damaging local democracy.

It issued a warning that it is also discouraging people from running for office in the future.

According to the LGA, the goal of the Debate Not Hate campaign is to promote civil discourse and strengthen backing for politicians who are the target of intimidation.

Social media companies claim to have policies to protect users from abuse, including suspending, limiting, or closing accounts.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, the Communications Act 2003 and the Malicious Communications Act 1988 both permit criminal prosecution of trolling, which is defined as making offensive or hurtful comments on social media.

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