A New Zealand parliamentary staffer has been stood down over a historical sexual assault allegation, hours after the House’s speaker suggested a man accused of attacks may still be working in the building.
New Zealand’s Speaker Trevor Mallard this week released a damning report into widespread bullying and harassment among staff and politicians working in the country’s parliament – including incidents of what Mr Mallard described as “rape”.
The independent investigation, which did not name or identify any of the complainants or those being accused, also included 14 allegations by women of sexual assaults in the precinct in recent years.
On Wednesday, Mr Mallard said an employee of the country’s Parliamentary Service had been stood down and an investigation launched after another staffer came forward with a historical complaint.
“The Parliamentary Service has removed a threat to the safety of women working in the parliamentary complex,” Mr Mallard said.
Earlier, he said the 400-page report had left him with the impression that at least three cases reported in the six-month investigation amounted to rape – and he believed the single, male perpetrator might still be working in parliament.
“We’re talking about serious sexual assault. Well that, for me, that’s rape,” Mr Mallard told Radio New Zealand.
He declined to say if the person stood down was the subject of those claims, while officials said the incident relating to the suspended staffer had been previously investigated, but not as a rape allegation.
Mr Mallard said he didn’t know the alleged attacker’s identity, their job or whether a police complaint had been made. The complaints in the report were made on the condition they would not be passed on.
“You can’t have women come on that certain basis and make complaints and then totally betray their trust,” he said.
Police have declined to comment on anything raised during the review.
Mr Mallard’s allegations have raised serious concerns about safety in New Zealand’s halls of power. His comments also sparked a sudden meeting between party leaders and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday.
“We need to first ensure that victims have all the support they need, but that everything actually needs to be decided by them. The choice of reporting to the police is ultimately for them,” Ms Ardern said.
“The responsibility – regardless of their decision – upon [us] is to ensure this is a safe working environment.”
Mr Mallard declined to say what additional steps had been taken to ensure safety.
But opposition deputy leader Paula Bennett accused Mr Mallard of “harbouring of a criminal” and urged him to call in the police, despite the privacy concerns.
“I’m not saying they should out the victims. The victims have a complete right to their privacy,” Ms Bennett said.
“But I also have concerns on the behalf of people working here that they feel that there is a known perpetrator of a crime and they feel unsafe.”
Ms Bennett said Mr Mallard’s comments gave people reason to believe there was a rapist at parliament.
“It wasn’t a shock to many of us that this place is toxic … sexual assault is a whole other level,” she said.