Yesterday it was suggested by the Speaker of the House, the Honourable Trevor Mallard, that the allegations of sexual assault occurring in Parliament suggest that rapes had been committed. The comments follow the release of a hugely damning report in to the work culture of Parliament that suggested a range of improper conduct ranging from bullying, degrading commentary, and inappropriate errands to unwanted sexual contact/commentary/assault.
For me the allegations of abuse raise some extremely worrying red flags. Chief among them is:
- How has the work environment of the people elected to represent the New Zealand Parliament and their service staff come to be like this
- What is wrong with the complaints procedure and the response to it for the complaints to have gotten to this level of severity
- What is the head of Parliamentary Services doing about it
- Where does responsibility for dealing with this problem currently stop, as opposed to where it should stop
Under any circumstance an allegation of rape by anyone should be immediately subject to a Police investigation if for no other reason than to establish whether the extremely serious offence that it is actually occurred. The same goes for any acts of violence towards other people, irrespective of who they are, the location, time or any other detail with regards to its occurrence.
The complaints about bullying and other harassment are no better. They constitute destructive behaviour that can have long lasting effects on the victim and make one wonder what the perpetrators are like outside of work, if they are so bad inside their work environment. Anti-Bullying (Pink Shirt) Day was held recently and many Members of Parliament dressed in pink to show their solidarity with it – which begs the question whether or not some are just going through the motions so they do not appear on the outer.
The head of Parliamentary Services, Mr Rafael Gonzalez Montero, claims that due procedures have been followed at all times and that there has always been appropriate support available for those alleging to have suffered sexual abuse.
If that is the case, then why has he lost 28 staff over a relatively short period of time? It is possible that it is not Mr Gonzalez-Montero’s fault at all – he might well have inherited a toxic place from his predecessor Mr David Stevenson, who is one of the 28 who have walked out the door for the final time since the end of 2018. And Mr Gonzalez-Montero is working with the Public Service Association, the Union representing public service sector workers to improve co-operation and procedures.
At the end of the day though it is everyone’s responsibility. If you see someone being bullied, intervene. If you know of someone being bullied, ask the victim if they are okay and offer to help them if they want to complain but don’t know how or are scared of retribution. This is really just common sense and common respect for fellow humans, yet it seems like at a very basic level some Members of Parliament and members of the public service have no idea what common decency means around the workplace.
And that is not acceptable. Not now. Not ever.