New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has found herself embroiled in the fallout from allegations of sexual assault against staff member of her own party. Picture: David Lintott/AFP
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has found herself embroiled in the fallout from allegations of sexual assault against staff member of her own party. Picture: David Lintott/AFP

Sex assault scandal engulfing NZ PM

Many politicians might hope for an official portrait or even a statue to mark their achievements in office.

Few have reached the heights of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who had her image beamed onto the side of the world's tallest building, Dubai's Burj Khalifa, in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack.

Her handling of that dark moment in New Zealand's history, as well as lighter moments such as becoming one of the few word leaders to give birth while in office, have endeared her to millions globally.

Earlier this year, prominent Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg described her as a "political prodigy" while Time magazine listed her as part of the globe's 100 "most influential people."

But a scandal erupting in Wellington is threatening to rub away some of the shine from Ms Ardern's prime ministership.

The leader, who could barely put a foot wrong, has been accused of dropping the ball on a sexual abuse allegation involving a male staff member who works for Ms Ardern.

The iconic image, of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern embracing a woman in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, has appeared on buildings from Melbourne to Dubai. Picture: James Ross/AAP
The iconic image, of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern embracing a woman in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, has appeared on buildings from Melbourne to Dubai. Picture: James Ross/AAP

GROPED

On Wednesday, New Zealand Labour Party President Nigel Haworth resigned over the handling of the claimed abuse.

"From my position, harm has been done here. We need to respond to that, accept it, offer that apology and put in place a process that means this never happens again," Ms Arden said this morning after proffering an initial apology yesterday, reported One News.

The scandal erupted on Monday when Kiwi news website The Spinoff published an article that said a high-up Labour staffer had assaulted a 19-year-old party volunteer. Neither person has been named.

The teen said she had been invited to the man's house in early 2018 to prepare for an upcoming regional conference. She watched TV with him and the other people in the house. But, she said, when the others eventually went to bed the mood changed.

"I remember I was looking at the screen and I felt him lean down over me onto my shoulder," she said.

Initially, she tried to ignore him but then he began touching her, in some instances beneath her clothing.

She said he pulled her off the chair and onto the floor, pinning her down as she struggled.

"I remember him just saying, 'shhh,' and shushing me or telling me to be quiet without explicitly telling me, or he'd press his arm down on my windpipe."

The woman claimed he groped and digitally penetrated her.

After the man rolled off her, she left the house in a panic and walked the 25 minutes back to her house.

"I just broke down. I was too scared to stop moving, I just wanted to get out of there," she told The Spinoff.

Jacinda Ardern at the parliament in Wellington. Picture: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Jacinda Ardern at the parliament in Wellington. Picture: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

She later told an internal party inquiry, which had been set up to look at various allegations of assault, about the incident, but panel members were slow to react.

The party volunteer insisted she informed the hearing earlier this year of the extent of the attack. However party bosses said they heard no specific allegations of a sexual assault.

The same investigation heard separate claims the man had bullied another party member.

Throughout the process, her alleged attacker continued in his senior role at the party. He was even at the same events as the her which caused her to be distressed.

In July, the investigation cleared the man of any wrongdoing. There was no recourse to an appeal. It was a verdict that the woman said left her "broken".

Ms Ardern announced the departure of Mr Haworth on Wednesday, days after the allegations surfaced.

The now former President has taken the fall for overseeing the investigation that reviewed and dismissed complaints made against the staffer.

But the multiple allegations have harmed the Prime Minister and raised questions as to what was happening in her party on her watch.

She said she is now "seeking advice" on the man's employment, having already barred him from the parliamentary precinct.

"In the last 48 hours I have read incredibly distressing reports of an alleged sexual assault involving members of the Labour Party," Ms Ardern said.

"The party was never equipped to appropriately deal with the issue."

This morning she reiterated that she was not previously aware of any sexual assault complaints.

The positions of three yet-to-be-named Labour officials, who conducted the investigation, also appear untenable.

So angry were some Labour members at the investigation's conclusions they took their grievances to Deputy Opposition Leader Paula Bennett.

She published an open letter from "MeToo Labour" on behalf of the complainants, which requested Mr Haworth's resignation and for Ms Ardern to enact other reforms.

Ms Bennett upped the stakes in parliament on Wednesday, naming members of Ms Ardern's senior staff who she said were aware of the allegations and chose to "draw a curtain over sexual misconduct and behaviour".

The scandal is a particularly thorny one for Ms Ardern, who has placed herself within the 'Me Too' movement that aims to call out and end sexual harassment and assault.

Ms Ardern extended an offer to meet.

"Raising an allegation of sexual assault is an incredibly difficult thing to do; for additional distress to be caused through the way those allegations are handled is incredibly upsetting," she said.

She faces a re-election campaign next year when New Zealanders go to the polls for a general election.

With AAP



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