Radio New Zealand
Wellington, March 14, 2018
It has been revealed that Cabinet Minister Megan Woods was contacted by a victim raising concerns about incidents of sexual assault of teenagers at a Labour Party summer camp.
Newsroom is reporting that a 20-year-old man harassed four 16-year-olds – two men and two women – at a boozy party on the camp’s second night.
Three of the four said a 20-year-old man had put his hand down their pants.
One of the victims contacted Ms Woods through Facebook on March 4, 2018.
General Secretary informed
In a statement, Ms Woods said she immediately called the party’s general secretary, Andrew Kirton, and asked him to get in contact with that person.
She said she then let the young person know a party official would be in touch.
Two hours later she heard from Mr Kirton that he had made contact and was told the situation was “being handled appropriately”.
Mr Kirton did not tell police, the teenagers’ parents, or Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, saying he wanted to keep the details confidential.
Mr Kirton said Labour would have backed them if they wanted to go to the police.
However, Newsroom’s editor Tim Murphy told Morning Report the affected teenagers didn’t get much support until the day before the story was due to break.
He said support was only made available to victims on Saturday, a three-week delay, possibly in recognition a story would be coming out.
He said a senior cabinet MP was also told about the assault by one of the victims who was dissatisfied with the way it was handled.
“It seems to have fallen into a big hole from the event to now,” he said.
Police said they would not comment on whether anyone has contacted them, or laid a formal complaint, in relation to the incidents of sexual assault at a Labour Party summer camp.
In a statement, Assistant Commissioner (Investigations) Richard Chambers encouraged anyone with information they wanted to discuss with Police to get in touch.
He said they would not be making any public comment, to ensure anyone who did want to contact the police “can feel comfortable in doing so.”
A complaint does not have to be made in order for “investigative steps” to be taken, and the decision to investigate is always based on the information available to the police, he said.
“Any information we receive is assessed to determine what further steps may be required.”
Further information on New Zealand Police’s approach to investigating sexual assault can be found on the Police website.
“Labour boss was wrong”
Ms Ardern told Morning Report she had no problem that the general secretary did not tell her about the incident, despite a senior cabinet minister being told.
She said her concern was around what had been done for the victims.
“The morning after the alleged offender in this case was ejected from the camp. The question was asked of those involved what more they’d like done if they’d like to take it further, but there was some follow-up that later took too long and the support wasn’t offered early enough.
“That was wrong, and that’s what we acknowledge, absolutely. We should have brought in the professionals straight away, everyone acknowledges that now. I think even he (Mr Kirton) acknowledges … there was a delay in services and support being offered to those involved.”
Police not informed
She also acknowledged senior party members knew, and police were not told.
“This was a party function and so of course the senior members of the party knew. The advice they had from those who specialise in this area – and we are not experts – was to be mindful of the wider circle who was aware in order to make sure that they were protecting victims and acting in the best interest of victims.”
“My understanding, he was acting at the will of those involved.”
She said she would have wanted to know if she was one of the parents, but it was a difficult situation.
“If it were me and I were the parent I would want to know… but if you have the person involved wanting to not widen the circle, to what degree do you act against their desire?”
Identity not known
Ms Ardern said that she did not know the full identity of the assailant but he was not a Labour party member or staffer. She said she believed he was associated with someone who was a Young Labour member.
“It was organised by Young Labour … it’s never been a strict requirement that you have to be a member. No excuse for what’s happened but clearly we needed to make sure that it was a much safer environment than it was.”
Ms Ardern said that she did not know if the man had been offered counselling, but it had been discussed.
Despite her criticism of his handling of the problem, and previous criticism of him over his handling of claims of substandard housing for Labour interns, she said Mr Kirton would keep his job.
“But we of course have to do better. You know, we know we need to do better.”
Labour Party President Nigel Haworth would be not be interviewed but gave Mr Kirton his full backing, saying that Mr Kirton and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had both fronted to the media.
About Andrew Kirton
He said that he had absolute confidence in Andrew Kirton, who he called an excellent General Secretary, and said he had “no question at all” in his mind about Mr Kirton’s future.
Andrew Kirton responds to criticism
Mr Kirton told Morning Report professional support should have been brought in for the victims earlier.
“I was told the Wednesday after the Saturday that it happened, and I asked Young Labour to get back in touch and again ask whether they would like any support or take it further.
“Two people got back in touch, and this is where the delay happened which is, as the Prime Minister said, unacceptable. They wanted to discuss particularly issues around alcohol, and the other two didn’t get back in touch,” Mr Kirton said.
He said he “totally rejected” the idea that support was only offered when a news story was about to be published.
“Professional support was offered in writing on Saturday last week,” he said.
“We offered support the day after, we offered support the week after … it was basically getting in touch with these young people, who informed Young Labour organisers on the Sunday after the event that they didn’t wish to take it further at that stage, but we know there can be delayed reactions.
“The event happened on February 10, 2018.
“I was contacted via a Labour MP by one of these young people involved who was unhappy that they’d replied to an email from Young Labour and hadn’t had a response. I contacted that young person within two hours of that and that indicated to me that that response was not adequate to what they were asking for and during that week – which was last week – I got back in touch with professional agencies, made sure that there was an external body which was offered to these people.”
He said that it was not relevant which Cabinet Minister knew about the alleged assault. They had been contacted on Facebook by a victim and had called him within minutes, he said.
“We discussed our approach with a couple of agencies, and we took the view the appropriate course of action was for the young people themselves to (go to the Police).”
He said he had not offered his resignation over the incident.
Indian Newslink has published the above Report and Picture under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz
(RNZ Picture by Claire Eastham-Farrelly)