Survivors' advocate Louise Nicholas is encouraging sexual assault victims to speak to police, even unofficially, as they decide whether to lay complaints against an alleged sexual predator in Parliament.
Her words came at the end of a turbulent day in Wellington as the Francis Review into bullying and harassment revealed 14 people had been the victim of alleged sexual assaults in the parliamentary workplace.
Speaker Trevor Mallard yesterday morning characterised three of those incidents as rape, which he believed were carried out by one perpetrator who still worked in Parliament.
Controversy ensued, with calls for the police to be brought in immediately to investigate.
A parliamentary staff member was subsequently stood down following a complaint about a historical assault of a sexual nature. But Parliamentary Service was yesterday treating that complaint as an employment matter, with Mallard refusing to pass the matter to police citing confidentiality.
The alleged incident had been investigated but the inquiry had been reopened, the service said — though the original investigation was not into allegations of rape.
The police would not comment on whether formal complaints had been laid or any investigation launched.
National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett and MP Judith Collins called for any complaints to be forwarded to police, but Mallard and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was up to the women to decide whether to take the matter further.
Louise Nicholas — who accused three police officers of raping her in the 1980s and now works with police as a victims' advocate — agreed.
"If those women feel that they need to take it further with police that is their absolute right, but they cannot be forced to do it," Nicholas said.
"It's a killer, but the safety of the survivor is paramount and their wellbeing is paramount."
Survivors could however talk to police without making a formal statement. "I know I'll get kickback on this, because I've been told if somebody discloses to police then the police need to act. No, they don't."
Survivors could take a support person and talk to the police's Adult Sexual Assault Team "off the record" before deciding whether to go further.
"It's not about telling the story but talking to them about the process and then maybe disclosing some of it, if you want to continue."
Nicholas was unsurprised that sexual assaults happened in Parliament.
"Every organisation has these people. It's about what we can do to help this organisation ensure that this does not happen again. And those women are the experts."
Mallard thanked the staff member who had came forward to lay the complaint yesterday.
"This is obviously a very traumatic time for that individual, and will also be the case for other individuals, other women, who are involved."
Asked if Parliament was safe, Mallard said: "One can never make an absolute guarantee of that type, and clearly we have a lot of work to do out of the review around attitude ... One of the key dangers is no longer in the building."
Bennett said that police should be called in, regardless of whether Mallard knew the identity of the alleged offender.
"Debbie Francis does [know the identity].
"She was contracted by [the Speaker]. Something else needs to happen. For me, it almost feels like they are harbouring a criminal ... This is not just a bit of inappropriate behaviour.
"The Speaker is alleging a very serious criminal act. I'm not convinced that everything is being done that should be."
Bennett said she was not necessarily calling on Francis to breach the conditions of her contract and name people to police, but said police should at least be called in for advice.
National MP Judith Collins, who is a former Police Minister, said police did not need a complainant to investigate.
"I would have thought, if there is evidence at that level — so much so that there is a report of three sexual assaults, apparently by one person — that that matter should go to police, if there is any idea about who this person is."
Timeline of events
• Tuesday: Speaker Trevor Mallard and Debbie Francis release report into bullying and harassment in Parliament.
• Tuesday afternoon: Mallard tells Heather du Plessis-Allan on Newstalk ZB there's a sexual predator working at parliament – or had been until recently. Mallard says he doesn't know who the man is.
• Yesterday, 7.30am: Mallard says in Radio NZ interview that he believes one man is responsible for the three serious sexual assault allegations in the report, that they amount to rape, and that the man could still be working at Parliament.
• 10.30am: Following extensive media coverage of Mallard's interview, Jacinda Ardern calls an urgent meeting with Mallard and Leader of the House Chris Hipkins to seek assurances that Mallard is acting to ensure the safety of the parliamentary workplace.
• 11am: National deputy leader Paula Bennett fronts media to say her staff feel afraid that there might be a rapist among them. NZ First leader Winston Peters says Mallard's comments lacked any evidence and were "absolutely repugnant", adding that he believed the alleged offender did not work for any political party.
• Before noon: A female staff member comes forward to lay a complaint with Parliamentary Service about a historical assault allegation.
• 12.45pm: At Ardern's suggestion, Mallard meets party leaders to assure them that he is taking steps to ensure the safety of the parliamentary workplace.
• 1.50pm: Ardern tells media of the meetings with Mallard that day, and that Mallard will have more to say in the afternoon.
• Just after 2pm: Alleged offender stood down.
• 3.30pm: Mallard fronts media to say a staff member has been stood down for an alleged assault of a sexual nature. Stands by his comments in the morning about rape. Says it is up to the complainant to refer the matter to police.
• 4.30pm: Parliamentary Service says the complaint is about an incident that was already looked into, but the investigation has been reopened. Adds that the original investigation was not into a rape allegation.