The Labour Party has been hit with claims that four young supporters were sexually assaulted at one of its annual ‘Summer School’ camps near Waihi last month.
The four – two males and two females – are all 16 and were allegedly assaulted or harassed by a 20-year-old man during a wild party on the second night of the camp.
Newsroom has been told the man was intoxicated and put his hand down the pants of at least three of the four young people.
Labour Summer Schools are open to supporters of all ages including those under 18 and this year’s camp in the Karangahake Gorge ran from late afternoon on Friday, February 9 to Sunday, February 11.
More than 50 people attended the camp and about a third of those were 18 or under.
The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, spoke at the event but was not present at the time of the incident.
Other speakers included Labour’s General Secretary, who outlined the party’s plans for 2018, MP for Waiariki Tamati Coffey on Māori development and Dr Sarb Johal on mental health.
Newsroom understands that the man involved was removed from the camp on the Sunday morning, the same day those attending heard a talk on feminism by Angie Warren-Clark – a Labour list MP and manager of the Tauranga Women’s Refuge.
According to witnesses, a large variety of alcohol was available on Saturday night and many people, including a 15-year-old boy, were drinking.
The “mountain” of alcohol included rum, vodka, cider and a large array of RTDs.
Newsroom has seen videos of drunken scenes and at least one man stripped to the waist dancing on a table.
Videos and photographs appeared on social media as the party raged into the early hours of the morning.
It’s understood the camp’s supervisor had gone to bed around 9pm and was not present at the party.
The camp’s ‘Code of Conduct’ was given to everyone who registered for the event.
It states there is “zero tolerance for inappropriate behaviour. Inappropriate behaviour includes any criminal activity, as well as bullying or acting inappropriately toward other attendees”.
The code also refers to alcohol and sexual harassment.
“The organising committee has to pay special attention to the activities of all under 18s in the camp (especially in regards to alcohol). We do not want to prevent you having fun but must act according to the law. No Means No! Sexism and sexual harassment of any form will not be tolerated.”
Newsroom has learnt that one of the camp’s organisers has been in touch with the victims and informed them the incident had been reported to Labour’s Head Office.
She is understood to have apologised on behalf of Young Labour and offered to support them in any way she could.
In a press conference this afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was the first she’d heard of the allegations.
“I went to the opening of that summer camp, I attended at the very beginning, people had just arrived so certainly none of that was apparent when I was there. This is the first I’ve heard of any such allegations but now that you’ve made them I’ll happily investigate them because that is not what I would expect of any Labour function.”
“Given that I’ve just heard it now, I’d just ask for the time to look into that personally.”
On whether leadership knew: “That could well be the case, I’m certainly not ruling out that our Labour Party leadership may well be aware, I’m certainly just pointing out it has not been raised with me until now.”
Asked if she were concerned about sexual harassment at camp, she said: “If that were the case I would be hugely worried about that.”
“As I say, I don’t know the age breakdown of who was in attendance and I can’t even say whether or not there was alcohol there. Certainly when I was there I didn’t see any sign of it.”
Ardern followed up with a statement, saying she expected young people attending Labour Party camps should be able to do so knowing the environment is safe.
“I’ve sought assurances that everything is being done to support the complainants. I’ve also asked the party to take every step possible to ensure that our events are safe for everyone who attends in the future.”
Labour General Secretary Andrew Kirton has since released a statement, saying the Labour Party was sorry the young people were exposed to “highly inappropriate behaviour”.
“We are extremely disappointed that an incident like this happened at a Labour event and we are working to make sure those involved receive any support they need. We are deeply sorry for the distress that’s been caused. It shouldn’t have happened.
“The Labour Party has initiated an external review of our policies and procedures including those involving alcohol. This review will involve our various sector groups, including Young Labour.
“The morning after an evening in which we understand several young people had consumed alcohol, Young Labour was alerted to complaints in relation to the behaviour of a 20-year-old man.
“The camp organisers contacted me in the days following the event and explained what they understood had happened, and the action they’d taken in response to it.
“Those included having clear processes in place such as a dedicated welfare phone line and designated support people.
“We have also offered further, professional support to those involved.
“I have subsequently banned the perpetrator from any future Labour Party events.”
In an interview with RNZ’s Checkpoint host John Campbell, Kirton defended his decision not to tell the Prime Minster about the incident until Newsroom contacted him for comment.
“The reason I didn’t was it can add more stress [to the victims] when a wider group of people become aware of the incident. We wanted to make sure of the confidentiality of those involved.”
Asked by Campbell if it was appropriate that so much alcohol was being served at an event where 15- and 16-year-olds were present, Kirton replied: “No, my understanding was that it was monitored by the organisers but the point is that there was too much alcohol there.
“We need to review what happened in this case but also at future events that alcohol consumption doesn’t get out of control.”
Kirton said Labour had made a decision not to notify the police.
“No, we wanted to make sure we did a survivor- or victim-led response. If they chose to take it further, then they would have our support to do that. It is my understanding that none of them have chosen to do that.”
Newsroom has heard that some of those attending the event are upset the response and offers of support have not come quickly enough.
Kirton earlier told Newsroom he was aware of the incident and was “working through it”.
Where to get help:
– Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (24/7), Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7), text free to 234 (8am-midnight) or live chat (7pm-11pm)
– Kidsline: 0800 54 37 54 (24/7; Kidsline Buddies available 4pm-9pm)- Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 TAUTOKO / 0508 828 865 (24/7)
– What’s Up: 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 942 8787 (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends) or live chat (5pm-10pm)- Healthline: 0800 611 116 (24/7)
– Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)- Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 or text free to 4202 (24/7)- If you feel you or someone you know is at immediate risk, call 111.
– 1737 Need to talk? – a brand-neutral front door for anyone to access support from a trained counsellor. People can call and text 1737