2 Jun 2021

Online abuse laws: Former National candidate Jake Bezzant allegations expose possible gap

5:56 pm on 2 June 2021

The prime minister says the government should take a look at a possible gap in laws protecting people from sexualised online abuse.

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File photo of PM Jacinda Ardern. Photo: Dom Thomas

It comes as a response to allegations former National Party candidate Jake Bezzant impersonated his ex-girlfriend online using naked pictures she had sent him during their relationship.

In a written statement, he told RNZ there were two sides to every story and it should be seen in the context of a relationship break-up.

The woman said on her podcast that Bezzant impersonated her online; making Snapchats and dating profiles to engage in online sex and to send nude images and videos of her.

"That was happening throughout the last two and a half years but then we obviously split up and then I found out in the last few weeks that he's still doing it," she said.

Bezzant was National's candidate for Upper Harbour, a formerly safe blue seat vacated by Paula Bennett, but lost to Labour in its 2020 landslide election win.

The woman told the podcast she had tried dealing with Bezzant and his family directly before turning to police when that did not work.

"[The police] did an ongoing investigation for a couple of months and basically in the end, just the way that the law was written, it couldn't be considered a criminal offence."

She said she tried to move on with her life before discovering Bezzant was still impersonating her a few weeks ago.

Her claims have raised questions about the strength of laws protecting people from online abuse, under the Harmful Digital Communications Act.

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi said it was illegal to share sensitive photos, but only if they were shared with the intent to cause harm.

He said he was aware of commentary about whether this legal test was good enough, but would not make any promises.

"I haven't had any advice on it. If we can go away and ask officials to look at it we might be able to form an opinion."

"We may very well [ask officials for advice] but I'm not going to stand her and respond to something that's happened in a political sphere and commit to something that I have not been briefed on."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said while the issue was not new, it was worth scrutinising.

"There's been some debate over, for instance, the issue of revenge porn - whether our legislation is fit for purpose there as well - so I think this is something we do need to take a look at."

Bezzant did not respond to RNZ's requests for an interview.

In a written statement, he said he wished the woman all the best and was enjoying working in the private sector in a new chapter of his life.

"Personal relationship break ups sometimes get messy. Two sides to every story. There is more than just her and I involved so I am going to respect that and so I am not going to discuss it. This needs to be seen in the context of a relationship break up."

He said he was not going to put himself forward for National Party candidacy at this time.