PM: Labour boss 'was wrong' in handling of alleged sex assault but will keep job

by RNZ / 13 March, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Lab related

Labour Party general secretary Andrew Kirton will keep his job, the Prime Minister says, despite acknowledging he and party management were wrong to delay offers of support to victims of sexual harassment at an event.

Newsroom is reporting that a 20-year-old man allegedly harassed four 16-year-olds two men and two women  at a boozy party on the camp's second night.

Three of the four said a 20-year-old man had put his hand down their pants.

Labour's general secretary Andrew Kirton did not tell police, the teenagers' parents, or Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, saying he wanted to keep the details confidential.

Mr Kirton said Labour would have backed them if they wanted to go to the police.

However, Newsroom's editor Tim Murphy told Morning Report the affected teenagers didn't get much support until the day before the story was due to break.

He said support was only made available to victims on Saturday, a three-week delay, possibly in recognition a story would be coming out.

He said a senior cabinet MP was also told about the assault by one of the victims who was dissatisfied with the way it was handled. "It seems to have fallen into a big hole from the event to now," he said.

Ms Ardern told Morning Report she had no problem that the general secretary did not tell her about the incident, despite a senior cabinet minister being told.

Andrew Kirton

Labour Party general secretary Andrew Kirton. Photo/Martin Hunter.

She said her concern was around what had been done for the victims.

"The morning after the alleged offender in this case was ejected from the camp. The question was asked of those involved what more they'd like done if they'd like to take it further, but there was some follow-up that later took too long and the support wasn't offered early enough.

"That was wrong, and that's what we acknowledge, absolutely."

"We should have brought in the professionals straight away, everyone acknowledges that now."

"I think even he [Mr Kirton] acknowledges ... there was a delay in services and support being offered to those involved.

She also acknowledged senior party members knew, and police were not told.

"This was a party function and so of course the senior members of the party knew. The advice they had from those who specialise in this area - and we are not experts - was to be mindful of the wider circle who was aware in order to make sure that they were protecting victims and acting in the best interest of victims."

"My understanding, he was acting at the will of those involved."

Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says Labour should not have delayed support to four 16-year-olds who allege they were assaulted at a Young Labour event. Photo/Getty

 She said she would have wanted to know if she was one of the parents, but it was a difficult situation.

"If it were me and I were the parent I would want to know... but if you have the person involved wanting to not widen the circle, to what degree do you act against their desire?"

Ms Ardern said she did not know the full identity of the offender but he was not a Labour party member or staffer. She said she believed he was associated with someone who was a Young Labour member.

"It was organised by Young Labour ... it's never been a strict requirement that you have to be a member.

"No excuse for what's happened but clearly we needed to make sure that it was a much safer environment than it was."

Ms Ardern said she did not know if the man had been offered counselling, but it had been discussed.

Despite her criticism of his handling of the problem, and previous criticism of him over his handling of claims of substandard housing for Labour interns, she said Mr Kirton would keep his job.

"But we, of course, have to do better. You know, we know we need to do better."

This was originally published on RNZ.

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