Cabinet minister Megan Woods has confirmed she was the Labour MP who drew Party officials’ attention to the incident in which four Young Labour supporters were the victims of sexual misconduct at a camp near Waihi.
Woods’ media secretary put out a statement this morning saying the Christchurch MP had responded quickly to the issues arising from a drunken party at the summer camp.
“The Minister saw a Facebook message about the incident from a young person on the 4th of March, she immediately called the party’s general secretary and alerted him and asked him to contact the person.”
After letting the young person know a party official would be in touch, she heard back from Kirton two hours later, who told her he had been in touch with the person “and the situation was being handled appropriately”.
It was after Wood’s intervention, nearly a month from when the assaults happened, that the four 16-year-old victims were offered counselling support.
Earlier today the Prime Minister accepted that her party has “badly handled” its response to sexual assaults on four young people at a Young Labour camp in February.
Speaking on TV3’s AM show this morning, Jacinda Ardern said Labour had been too slow to help those involved and probably their parents should have been told.
“I think we took too long because there was a bit of a delay between reaching out and responding with appropriate services, I know if I was a parent, even though I know there was advice from ‘Help’ in Wellington that if those involved did want further people to know we should respect that, I know if it had been me as a parent it would have been very difficult not knowing. … The very fact that we had people of that age and that even though alcohol wasn’t provided it was present that wasn’t right either, so yes there are things that have certainly have gone wrong.”
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 revealed yesterday that the man was intoxicated and put his hand down the pants of at least three of the four young people.
The camp took place between February 9 and 11 in the Karangahake Gorge near Waihi.
Ardern defended her party officials’ decision not to report the assaults to the Police.
“Yeah well look – when our general sec was made aware of the allegations …. they were offered the next day what support they needed, would they like to go to the Police and at that time they didn’t wish to, they were asked again later on, they didn’t wish to again. It took too long but support was also offered through Wellington services through ‘Help’.”
The Prime Minister’s account seems to be at odds with information obtained by Newsroom which suggest that some of the victims were not offered the opportunity to go to the police.
Newsroom has been told that Labour’s General Secretary Andrew Kirton has apologised to one of those involved and reportedly said he “regretted” the decision not to go the police.
Newsroom has also learned that offers of counselling didn’t come until 20 days after the assaults took place and then only after the intervention of a prominent Labour MP who was contacted on Facebook by one of the victims.
When support was offered, the provider was a Wellington-based charitable organisation Wellington www.wellingtonhelp.org.nz but Newsroom understands that none of the victims live in Wellington.
Ardern told AM that it was not important that she only learned of the incident yesterday after Newsroom contacted Andrew Kirton for comment.
“It doesn’t bother me that I found out yesterday, what matters is that it was handled properly … I wasn’t the most important person who needed to know.
“We need to make sure this never happens again, that young people are never in that situation again and there is no excuse.”
More than 50 people attended the camp and about a third of those were 18 or under.
The Prime Minister 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.”
Yesterday, Labour General Secretary Andrew Kirton 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.”
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