Missteps on harassment allegations | Otago Daily Times Online News

Sexual harassment and assault creates headlines around the world almost on a daily basis.

The #metoo campaign has spread to New Zealand, led by broadcaster and journalist Alison Mau. The reaction to Ms Mau’s campaign with a media organisation to launch an investigation into sexual harassment in New Zealand workplaces, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, has been divisive.

It is top of mind for many people who have suffered the indignities of being touched or handled inappropriately, or, even worse, sexually assaulted by someone with more power.

Law firm Russell McVeagh has had its share of publicity regarding the inappropriate treatment of interns and junior staff. Now it is the turn of a New Zealand political party to try to explain away some unfortunate behaviour at a Young Labour summer camp.

Allegations have been made four Young Labour supporters were sexually assaulted at the camp last month. Two males and two females, all 16, were allegedly assaulted or harassed by a 20-year-old man during a party at the Waihi camp.

The man was reportedly intoxicated and put his hand down the pants of at least three of the four young people. The affected teenagers did not get much support until the day before the story was due to break on the Newsroom website. The support came three weeks after the camp.

The things which did not happen include Labour Party general secretary Andrew Kirton not telling the parents of the young people, not notifying the police of the allegations and not informing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was apparently caught unawares by the allegations when questioned by the media.

Mr Kirton has confirmed the assault was of a groping nature and that he was made aware of the incidents about three or four days after the camp.

One of the reasons put forward by Mr Kirton for not telling anyone about the incidents was he wanted a victim-led process, defying the logic of having 16-year-olds allegedly sexually harassed or interfered with. Alcohol was present – not supplied by Labour, but still available.

Young and aspiring political activists should be able to have fun in a safe environment. The banning of the 20-year-old alleged offender was completely the right thing to do, but the rest of the process needs a closer look.

To make it worse, a photo of the gathering was shared online. The faces of the participants can be seen clearly, as though the victims had not yet suffered enough.

There have been suggestions Ms Ardern is going to investigate the matter; not a wise decision if true. A prime ministerial investigation could step across any investigation to be instigated by the police.

Unfortunately, there has been a backlash against the media for the reporting of the allegations, mainly from the left of the political spectrum, leaving some wondering what the reaction would have been if this had occurred at a Young National camp or an Act NZ function.

There are huge implications for Labour in this. Strong women MPs have, over the years, stood together on issues such as gender equality and sexual connotations.

In 2015, a mass protest by female Opposition MPs came after former prime minister Sir John Key’s claim Labour was backing rapists and murderers.

At least 12 female MPs either walked out or were asked to leave the debating chamber after standing one by one in defiance of then Speaker David Carter and demanding an apology.

Labour has made serious mistakes in the handling of this complicated issue. The young people are again being made victims because of the ineptness by party officials.

Whether parents will again trust Young Labour at a future camp is a moot point. The party’s obligation was to the young people and their families. The police should have been involved at the earliest opportunity.