COMMENT:

A former politician with years of experience in the Beehive lifts the lid on what really happens at Parliament.

When the little head takes over from the big head, all hell breaks loose, as illustrated by the sex scandals wreaking havoc in Parliament this week.

Does this behaviour from the likes of Andrew Falloon and Iain Lees-Galloway signal a decline in standards among Members of Parliament?

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Hardly.

Think back to two former Prime Ministers, David Lange and Robert Muldoon, now dead, whose extra-marital affairs were the worst-kept secrets in the land.

MPs are human and, like many people, they have illicit affairs. It's nobody else's business unless they're hypocritical (eg preach family values) or go public to get revenge, excuse themselves, or hurt the other party who doesn't deserve the pain. For example, when Jami-Lee Ross accused his leader Simon Bridges of corruption (claiming the moral high ground) then told media he'd been having an affair with Sarah Dowie. The words Love Rat come to mind.

When pride is hurt, men quickly become infected with entitle-itis.

I was in and around the Parliamentary precincts for many years. Along with other women, I saw, heard and experienced a wearying overdose of manipulation, harassment and abuse – from men in all parties. The MP who follows you home after the House rises at 10pm. You walk deliberately past your apartment door and shake him off a block further on so he doesn't know where you live.

The one who repeatedly tries to get you into bed, despite telling him you're happily married thanks. He later says he's been told by another MP that he had sex with you in the Parliamentary gym. This is a straight-out lie but the more you deny it, the more he laughs. An MP in your own party tells a locker room joke shared with MPs in another party about the size of your breasts. You laugh along with it because you don't want to appear a prude.

Sex scandals have been wreaking havoc in Parliament this week. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Sex scandals have been wreaking havoc in Parliament this week. Photo / Mark Mitchell

More than once I crouched in my office wardrobe, hiding from a visitor who'd been told repeatedly I was not interested in seeing him, while my executive secretary fibbed about my whereabouts. These days he'd never get past security.

There was no Twitter, Facebook or Instagram when I was there, but blogs were just beginning and hardly a day went by when a few of us women MPs weren't tormented by a guy who (anonymously) cut and pasted our faces onto women's naked bodies on his blog.

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In the end, like Clare Curran who suffered the appalling ignominy of having her face illustrating a toilet seat, the lack of support in the face of male harassment and bullying gets too much and you leave for a happier life. I quickly discovered if I didn't keep quiet about this crap my list placing would put me out of Parliament anyway.

Many years later I still wake in the night shaking at these memories; sweating with feelings of shame and guilt. "Did I do anything to encourage the overtures? Was I too flirty?"

But I didn't sexually harass or abuse anyone, so why do I still feel like the bad guy?

Critics of Parliament say this would not be tolerated in other workplaces but it is; it occurs everywhere. Of late, a string of academics have been hauled up for indecent sexual assaults. I don't need to remind you about law firms. Teachers are often coming before their council for illegal sex with pupils. Both state and private corporations have their share of sex scandals involving power imbalances.

Once, pre-Parliament, I met a heavyweight CEO over lunch at his hotel. He said he had a book to lend me, up in his room. We went up together in the elevator to his suite. I did think he was taking rather a long time to fetch said book when he reappeared wearing nothing but the hotel bath robe. I fled.

I know what you're thinking – I was stupid to go to his room. I was asking for it?

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Hold that thought.

A long time ago, when I was about 18, there was only one GP in Wellington known to prescribe the contraceptive pill to single girls. When I went to his rooms he told me to take off all my clothes from the waist down and lie on the bed. No nurse, no gloves. He masturbated me until I had an orgasm then told me to get dressed while he wrote the prescription. I remember walking out, face burning, through the waiting room full of young women, holding back tears and feeling the most crippling shame. I still can't talk about this without descending into hysterics. But I did nothing wrong.

Would you ask: "Why did you go into his rooms? You were just asking for it!"

One brave woman did report him for rape. He was prosecuted but found not guilty and now he's dead.

Andrew Falloon resigned this week after his phone was used to send a pornographic image to a teenage woman. Photo / Jason Walls
Andrew Falloon resigned this week after his phone was used to send a pornographic image to a teenage woman. Photo / Jason Walls

I have since connected with other women who received the same abuse and in hindsight I wish I'd had the guts to come forward at his court case.

We feel shame and it's not right: Monica Lewinsky – betrayed not only by men but women too. All the Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein complainants slut-shamed by those who probably still believe "No" means "Maybe".

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Parliament won't change unless robots are in charge. Men and women will always have affairs never knowing if it will end well, or as a train wreck. We can argue that women should be safe to walk streets at night, go into men's hotel rooms, visit doctors, without fear of being sexually assaulted, but that's never going to happen. There will always be sexual predators – and some of them will be women, as the Centrepoint Community proved when partners and wives were found to have procured young girls for their partners to sexually abuse.

We could stop feeling sorry for sex pests. They're worse than robbers who break into your house, nick the family heirlooms then poop everywhere just for kicks, yet burglars don't get cuddles from the do-gooders. "Mental health issues" is no excuse for helping yourself to sexual gratification, using sex as a weapon, or power trip. Save the empathy for those coping with the damage these very dangerous people leave in their wake.

Hashtag campaigns and parliamentary inquiries won't stop predatory behaviour. They simply give women a false sense of security. In the time I took to write this, more women have been hurt. I hope that, unlike me, they're told it's not their fault, they are not the guilty party.