22 May 2019

Parliament bullying: Mallard urges rape victims to seek support

12:07 pm on 22 May 2019

Speaker of the House Trevor 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.

Speaker Trevor Mallard at the release of the report into bullying at Parliament.

Speaker Trevor Mallard at the release of the report into bullying at Parliament. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

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.

  • Read the full report here

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

Mr Mallard told Morning Report's Susie Ferguson 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.

He 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.

Parliament and Beehive

Parliament and Beehive Photo: RNZ

"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 they [the police] said is in these circumstances if complaints have been received they are not going to make public comment unless they have clearance from claimants to do that.

  • Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason, or call Safe To Talk 0800 044 334 for urgent help. If it is an emergency and you feel you or someone else is at risk call police on 111.

"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.

"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."

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.

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.

"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."

She said threats of sexual assault were common too.

"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."

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley.

Deputy Speaker of the House Anne Tolley. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

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."

Taking action: Response to the report

The report makes 85 recommendations. Mr Mallard would not commit to taking on every recommendation from the report, but said he wanted to take on "the vast majority".

"I think there are some ... that are gonna be quite hard, and some that I want to go further than the recommendations.

"At an early part of it I'm going to have much better reporting to party leaders and chief executives around staff turnover and sudden departures. I think at the moment there's a habit of giving people money and getting them to sign non-disclosure agreements - sort of hush money, if you like - and hoping that it all goes away. From my perspective that's just not acceptable and that's going to be one of the early changes."

He said what he was trying to do was to move Parliament away from a system where bullying of all kinds was an open secret.

"The full implementation will take a number of years, but action has already been taken against a couple of [MPs]. their leaders are aware of that ... action has been taken while the report was ongoing because ... the extent of bad behaviour and the fact that in some cases interventions were necessary and couldn't wait until the report came out."

He said he had a sense of who some of the bullies were.

"Based on rumour and anecdote as opposed to evidence - except for a couple of members, who I'm dealing with - I know that there are some senior staff members - both political staff and administrative staff - that have been bullies in the past. Some of them are still here and some of them are not."

He refused to identify particular perpetrators - as the report was done under the understanding complaints would be anonymous - but said he thought they would be identified in future.

However, he also accepted that asking people to tell their stories repeatedly could be retraumatising in itself. He said that was a problem with the court system, "which I know people are looking at, at the moment".

Ms Tolley said it was important not to disrupt the "robust debate" of the House, but maintained that a confidential, independent complaints commission needed to be set up.

"Parliament is the place where ideas are tested from a variety of points of views and we don't want that to stop, but it's how you do that without getting personal.

"Debate the bill, but don't pick on a person and talk about their background, their history, their sex, their intelligence. All of those are standing orders anyway but trying to control that in the middle of a debate can sometimes be difficult ... Unfortunately, as Debbie Francis has found, that balance has been tipped against individuals for too long.

"This is a very hierarchical place, my concern has always been for new members coming in. The last thing you want to be known by is as someone who, for instance, names one of your colleagues or goes to the media or goes to the leader complaining, so you're very reluctant to do that until you get a bit of confidence to be able to stand up to the bullies."

Where to get help:

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.

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