Ardern: Up to victims to report sexual assault


Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says it's up to victims of sexual assault in Parliament to report it to the police.

Speaker Trevor Mallard says he believes a man who has committed what he calls "rape" three times in the parliamentary workplace is still working at Parliament.

But he does not know who it is, and he hopes that if any victim wishes to take a complaint to police, they will be properly supported in doing so.

His comments have sparked a sudden meeting with party leaders and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Mr Mallard says it's his impression from the report on bullying at Parliament that people have been raped there, and he is urging the victims to go to police or support agencies.

Asked by media this afternoon whether the information should be shared with the police, Ms Ardern said it was up to victims themselves if they report it to authorities.

Ms Ardern said today she immediately sought assurances from Mallard that he was taking appropriate steps to make Parliament safe.

He is seeking to do that job, she said.

Speaker Trevor Mallard at the release of the report into bullying at Parliament. Photo: RNZ
Speaker Trevor Mallard at the release of the report into bullying at Parliament. Photo: RNZ
Asked if Parliament was safe for women, Ms Ardern replied: "Well, it needs to be."

While those who shared information for the Francis report spoke under the condition of anonymity, she said Parliament still had a duty to keep people safe.

Asked if there was a rapist in Parliament at the moment, the Prime Minister said Mallard would provide more details.

She said the choice of reporting to police was up to victims.

"We need to first ensure victims have the support they need."

She said yesterday's report showed there was still a huge amount of work to do.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has called Mr Mallard's comments "repugnant" and said the alleged offender is not a parliamentary staffer or someone who works for a political party - though he wouldn't say what he was basing that on.

The independent report by Debbie Francis - ordered by Mr Mallard after a series of cases of bad behaviour - was scathing in its denouncement of a culture of serious bullying and harassment at Parliament.

As well as rife bullying and harassment since at least October 2014, the first-of-its-kind report found sexism, racism and unreasonably aggressive behaviour by and between staff, managers, MPs, media and the public - and a system that protects the perpetrators.

Some of the most serious accusations included allegations of sexual harassment, including three cases of serious sexual assault.

Mr Mallard told RNZ's Morning Report programme today it was his interpretation that people had been raped at Parliament.

"We're talking about serious sexual assault, well that, for me, that's rape ... that is the impression I get from the report, yes."

He said his reading of the report was that the offences were all committed by one person, and said he did not know who that person was.

Mr Mallard admitted that having them tell their story over and over again was a problem with the court system, "which I know people are looking at, at the moment".

"I'm not aware whether they're MPs or staff. Reading the report carefully I get the sense that the man is still on the premises ... I don't know who it is, if I knew who it is I would tell the police."

He was not sure if the perpetrator had been identified to police and said the report was carried out with an expectation of privacy, but urged the victims to go either to police or support agencies and report the assaults.

"The complaints were made under the absolute condition that none of that would be passed on. You can't have women come on that certain basis and make complaints and then totally betray their trust.

"If a particular name of an offender is passed on and there are three complainants it will be obvious that one of those three have passed it on and that will breach their confidentiality. If the offender's name is out there the offender will know that it's been passed on."

"What I'm really hoping is that people actually go either directly to the police or to rape crisis or other support agencies who can give them proper support in this. Frankly, having them retraumatised by this sort of conversation isn't that useful."

It was his belief the attacks happened within the past four-and-a-half years.

"It might be - because there was an ability to go back further if people brought things up with Debbie Francis - it might be longer than that, but it's clearly been over multiple years."

Paula Benett: "I personally am dealing with staff that are feeling very vulnerable and upset"....
Paula Benett: "I personally am dealing with staff that are feeling very vulnerable and upset". Image: NZ Herald

'IT DOESN'T FEEL SAFE FOR WOMEN' - BENNETT WANTS POLICE INVOLVED

National's deputy leader Paula Bennett has called for the Speaker to involve the police after he said rape could have occurred at Parliament.

She said unless he acts on the information held by either himself or Ms Francis, he could be harbouring a criminal, even taking into account the fact people came forward to speak to the inquiry on the basis of anonymity.

"It has led many to believe that there is a rapist on our premises currently working here. There are people here that are feeling unsafe at the moment. I personally am dealing with staff that are feeling very vulnerable and upset, and describe themselves as feeling ill and uncomfortable and nervous."

Ms Bennett said she did not know who the offender is, nor had anyone from her party come forward to say they had been victims of alleged offending, the New Zealand Herald reports.

Ms Bennett said she did not know who the offender is, nor had anyone from her party come forward to say they had been victims of alleged offending.

"Debbie Francis does. She was contracted by [the Speaker]. Something else needs to happen. There is a duty of care for Debbie Francis and the Speaker to have police involved immediately so those allegations can be followed up, and the safety of the people working here can be put first.

"For me, it almost feels like they are harbouring a criminal ... This is not just a bit of inappropriate behaviour. The Speaker is alleging a very serious criminal act. I'm not convinced that everything is being done that should be."

Ms Bennett said she was not necessarily calling on Francis to beach the conditions of her contract and name alleged offenders to police. She said the first step was for Mallard to clarify what he knows, and then seek advice from police.

She said National leader Simon Bridges had spoken to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this morning, and she had also spoken to Mallard.

Asked if Parliament was a safe place for women, Bennett said: "It doesn't feel like it today."

Deputy Speaker of the House Anne Tolley. Photo: RNZ
Deputy Speaker of the House Anne Tolley. Photo: RNZ
INDEPENDENT COMMISSION NEEDED - TOLLEY

Deputy Speaker of the House Anne Tolley said the sexual assault allegations were "extremely serious", but she was not surprised by it, having seen some of the evidence from overseas, RNZ reported.

"Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians conducted a survey which I brought back from the IPU and during that survey - it was made clear to us that it was an independent survey - that there were women who had been sexually assaulted."

Threats of sexual assault were common too, she said.

"I've had it myself - but many, many women MPs have been threatened with rape, particularly on social media. We see the case of Golriz Gharahman at the moment and the terrible stuff that she's getting on social media."

She also encouraged victims to go to police, but said there also needed to be an independent commission as the Debbie Francis report recommended.

"The police handle it so much better these days and they would be treated extremely well, but I do believe we need a process, an independent process, here in Parliament that people have confidence ... that it would be confidential, that they can get help, that they can get support.

"Going through that process with the police takes a lot of courage, we all know that, and so it's not just a matter of sending someone off to the police while they make that complaint."

Rape Crisis national spokesperson Andrea Black said she was also not shocked by the news of a potential serial rapist working at Parliament.

"I'm not too shocked really. We still live in a world where rape is not spoken freely about, particularly in institutions where there are strong power-conforming processes. As Anne [Tolley] has just said, Parliament is a heirarchical, patriarchal structure and it's very hard to speak up safely when harm happens."

She advised people who had been harmed to talk to someone they trust.

"Go to find someone you trust that is not going to shut you down or not believe you. And that goes for people who cause harm as well. We have to step into the growing world of 'this is not tolerated anymore'. We have to step into responsibility for our behaviour causing harm and of course supporting those who speak up who have been assaulted or harmed."

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Women's Refuge: 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843

Shine:  9am-11pm every day, 0508 744 633

Shakti: for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and children.  0800 742 584

Rape Crisis: 0800 883 300

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155)

It's Not OK (0800 456 450)

Shine: 0508 744 633

Victim Support: 0800 650 654

For male survivors:

Road Forward Trust, Wellington, contact Richard 0211181043

Better Blokes Auckland, 099902553

The Canterbury Men's Centre, 03 3776747

The Male Room, Nelson 035480403

Male Survivors, Waikato 07 8584112

Male Survivors, Otago 0211064598

For urgent help: Safe To Talk 0800044334.

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

- RNZ and NZ Herald 

Comments

This would have been known for sometime/ why has the speaker / and our PM not acted on this. The PM must have known/ this is not a good look

 

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