12 Sep 2019

Labour's badly bungled sexual assault investigation

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 12 September 2019

Content warning: This podcast contains distressing descriptions of sexual assault, along with its mental health implications, which may be triggering to survivors.

Labour’s been hit by a firestorm of criticism over its handling of sexual abuse allegations – and as the pressure reached boiling point, those criticisms claimed the job of the party’s president.

Nigel Haworth quit on Wednesday afternoon; his resignation announced in a press release from the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern.

He’s been at the centre of a storm since The Spinoff published an account of an alleged assault on Monday.

In it, the complainant – who writer Alex Casey calls Sarah - alleges her claims of assault weren’t investigated seriously, or even properly listened to.

In the days since, other complainants have come forward to say they feel the process favoured the alleged perpetrator – and that they have been let down by the party, and specifically, by Haworth.

“The process itself was deeply retraumatising,” says one complainant.

It seemed only a matter of time until Haworth was forced from his post - and indeed, it was.

The allegations leading to his resignation centre on a man employed by Parliamentary Services, stationed in the Labour leader’s office. At least seven people have come forward with complaints ranging from bullying to assault.

Stuff’s Andrea Vance has been covering the developments.

“The first allegations that we know of actually occurred at April 2017 at a Labour youth conference… there’s an allegation by a 19-year-old woman that she was assaulted as she tried to sleep at that event,” says Vance.

“She didn’t come forward at that time… she says she didn’t at the time think of it as an assault.”

Vance says that the following February, the woman alleges she was again assaulted by the man, this time in his home, while there under the pretence of Labour business.

However, when separate allegations of assault and sexual assault at a different Young Labour camp came to light the following March, Sarah decided to report her assault.

What followed was a series of investigations and interviews – some ongoing – which ultimately decided to take no action against the alleged perpetrator.

That decision is now the subject of a new, independent review.

Vance says regardless of the specifics of who knew what and when, Haworth had to stand down based on the “bungling” of two separate instances of alleged assault against young people.

“Parliament is a hot bed of gossip – there are no secrets in Parliament.

“I find it very hard to understand how no one in the party at higher levels was alive to or alert to questions about this man’s behaviour.

“I just feel like in this Me Too environment, the fact that Labour’s… antennae wasn’t up, has led to all these problems.”

Photo: RNZ