John Key fails to manage sexual harassment

So, people elsewhere have covered the Worth saga pretty well covered. I think the Hand Mirror covered it pretty well from the perspective that I would have.

What I instead want to talk about is what this means for the Prime Minister, and a National Party that’s trying to be Not Quite Labour™ and do things like actually worry about stuff that some women do, such as breast cancer.

The Prime Minister has managed this like crap. I think this is one of the things a lot of kiwis didn’t realise they would be getting when they voted for Not Quite Labour™, as they talked the talk very well on some more mainstream women’s issues (read: issues that appeal to straight Pakeha women1) but couldn’t walk the walk. The contrast here couldn’t be clearer: our boring, sensible leader of the opposition is discrete, respects the privacy of the woman who made allegations, asks for evidence but doesn’t blame or pressure her, and trusts her and supports her without going in swinging as some sort of ill-conceived white knight without her permission. Gentlemen, (and other guys) this is a great example for what to do if a someone2 ever confides in you that they have been sexually harassed.

In contrast, when John Key was tapped discreetly on the shoulder by Phil Goff, he did not ensure he got to see the texts or emails or call logs, his “investigation” didn’t even ask Phil Goff for them. This suggests that it was not an investigation, and in fact he merely asked Worth for his side of the story and then covered for him when he denied it. A clue for potential Prime Ministers, employers, or leaders of any type: Sexual harassment is serious. Don’t leave it to be a matter of who said what- if there’s any documentation to be had, get it. Whether the allegation is real or a fake, SOMEONE is going to need counseling to deal with this at the end, so finding the facts is excellent.

John Key also initially said he would “out” the people alleging Dr. Worth sexually harassed them, until he eventually broke down under repeated questioning and admitted it might be appropriate to hear their evidence privately. This breaks another rule: Don’t go public unless you have to take public action, (such as a dismissal) and if you do have to, don’t share details, don’t name names you don’t have to. Whether or not there is substance to the allegation3, I think the person who made it deserves privacy in our culture where victims of sexual crimes are attacked more than perpetrators. People bringing allegations of sexual abuse deserve to be considered innocent of lying about it until they are proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt, and right now, the court of public opinion does not work on those rules.

I know it goes against the instincts of many men, but victims need to be able to choose just how much they can handle in bringing their allegations to bear. For some people it is shaming or even traumatising enough that it even happened in the first place, and they would collapse under public scrutiny. Sometimes not even making allegations at all can be the best road for recovery. As friends, bosses, leaders, family, whatever- we don’t have the right to make those choices for other people. It’s great to see that there are still people in parliament that get that.

The National Party seems to get that it needs to give in to things that are popular with women, but it still isn’t listening to women who are victims of sexual harassment on how to deal with that sort of situation, and still seems to be stuck in the era where you play defense for your mates until you can retire them safely to the back bench. This sort of thing can’t be shut up now fortunately, so it’s something they’re going to have to deal with, at least if they want to court the Women’s Day vote any longer.

While this affair hasn’t been a home run for the media, it’s been a dramatic improvement on past coverage of sexual harassment/abuse allegations, and I’d like to acknowledge that. There was actually an assumption that the victims had a right to privacy. I shouldn’t have to be happy about that, but I am, and that’s the way the world is right now. Let’s keep hoping for more: Hopefully our Prime Minister will pick up the steps as we force him to dance this issue4. Hopefully the media will continue to protect the rights of victims this way. Hopefully. 🙂

1Obviously I’m not saying straight Pakeha women aren’t women too, just that they’re not the only women.
2Yes, sexual harassment happens to men, too. In fact, men are even more reluctant to report it than women, partially because of the perception that they should have liked it. Sexual harassment perpetrated against men has a lot of the same psychological baggage associated with it as rape perpetrated against men.
3In cases where there isn’t substance to an allegation of sexual harassment, counseling is a really good idea anyway. A counselor will help them deal with whatever issues caused the allegation- whether it was an unprovable case of sexual harassment, or a cry for attention, or a symptom of a larger psychological problem, mental health needs dealing to, not mocking and attacking in the style that the public usually brings for what they perceive as false allegations.
4Or we decide that we need a new leader who’s better at this sort of thing. (ie. not Bill English) Either’s fine with me, really.

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17 Responses

  1. Awesome post 🙂

  2. Cheers. 🙂

    Your comments should show up instantly now. 🙂

  3. Wow, you’re back blogging! Great post, closer to my thoughts than most of what I’ve been reading [1].

    But please, for the love of pedants, “discreet” not “discrete”. Homonyms are not synonyms. Goff tapping Key on the shoulder involved two separate individuals (discrete people) and was done without undue fuss (behaving discreetly).

    [1] and thanks for footnoting teh menz.

  4. Oh dear. I learned to write/read phonetically so I have difficulty with substituting words that sound the same sometimes. Will fix that up. I definitely knew my discrete from my discreet, I just didn’t spot I’d done that. 🙂

    eta: And yes, I’m trying to make more regular posts even though I’m super busy. Best way to keep your hand in at something is to make time and practice. I’ll not always manage to have something every day, but that’s the goal.

  5. My goodness – egg on your face!!

    You said “[Goff]..respects the privacy of the woman who made allegations”– oops – he gave it away with “strikingly beautiful” and then there was the leftist Rudman’s admission she was an unsuccessful Labour nomination. Shame! Shame!

    You said “his “investigation” didn’t even ask Phil Goff for them.” False. Goff refuses to release the texts to Key (or rather his CoS). He has sneakingly released a few harmless ones to the media, and she is desperately trying to get others from Vodafone. How embarrassing!!

    This has ended up being TWO own goals for Goff. First, he has managed to get rid of a Worthless MP that was only going to cause more grief for the govt. Thanks Phil.- we’ve been wanting Richard’s head on a silver platter since his misjudgements in India plus the taxi incident. Second own goal is now that Key has dispatched of Worthless even as an MP (remember Helen&co defending Taito Field for yonks let alone allowing other foolish cabinet ministers a back door back in?), the focus will now be on Goff’s murky dealings with the woman and their “honey trap”. Looks like the grubby politics didn’t leave Labour with the departure of Clark and Williams. Obviously it’s an entrenched culture. More shame to the left.

  6. Sean-

    I wrote this post before the events you describe, and I agree Goff’s handling went downhill. I don’t see how it’s egg on my face to have described his events at the beginning as honourable and then have him do a few stupid things afterwards that the more misogynistic elements of the National Party used to out the woman involved. (You’ll excuse me for editing her name out of your post, I hope. I can’t take back the news broadcast, but I don’t think she deserves her name plastered around everywhere else because of it.)

    He should have been more discreet about his comments about her, but the point that he let her have control of the evidence and whether she “outed” herself to the public from his end is still something, and the kind of attitude I would have wished for from all three sides. (ie. opposition, government, and media)

    My understanding was that Goff refuses to have the story fobbed off to one of Key’s assistants who dealt with it so disastrously in the first place, not that he refused to release them at all. I’ve honestly stopped watching the coverage since though, so that’s kinda second hand.

    I disagree about which side of the political divide behaved “grubbily” here, but you probably guessed that.

  7. Okay I believe you that your comments were made before more details came to light. Initially I also gave Goff Kudos for raising the topic with Key in private some time ago and said so myself at The Standard. But it really has gone downhill since then for him and considering her background and ambitions, she should have known better than to push it as afar as he did. Maybe then not so much egg on your face (given the timings) but the whole scenario has now come to a draw when it should have been a gain for Labour (hence the own goals). Goff should have done better considering his political experience. The whole experience has been a learning for both Goff and Key.

  8. Goff’s actions were incautious, true, but he’s not ultimately responsible for outing the woman involved, which is an important distinction. Blame for that rests on the people who actually went and researched and then posted her name.

    I don’t really understand the reasoning that leads to some people concluding Goff comes out of this as badly as Key, but I’ll certainly agree he’s no longer as roses as when I pressed Publish 😉 and especially that he lost a fair bit of political advantage being so free with his descriptions.

  9. I disagree. Yes he was (and Rudman). The comments directly lead to the person being (easily) identified amongst the large number of Indian women in the population. In fact TV3 figured it out before WhaleOil, but their news wasn’t until 6PM. I wouldn’t try to deflect responsibilty here.

    Well I called it a draw, but lets see if the “honey trap” saga gathers momentum in the media. I suspect not since Worth has resigned as a MP and most think it’s time to move on.

  10. TV3 shouldn’t have published it either, and are just as irresponsible. I’m a bit curious you think it’s his responsibility for being cautious- would you say for instance that someone who goes out late at night and gets assaulted was responsible for their own injury? I don’t think that’s a very productive attitude: ultimately it’s the person who chooses to do something negative that I think deserves any blame that’s going to be dished out for it, regardless of whether someone unthinkingly made it easier for them to do it.

    but lets see if the “honey trap” saga gathers momentum in the media

    Fortunately that doesn’t seem to be happening, despite the best attempts of the right-wing part of the blogosphere. 🙂

    And yeah, I think it’s moving on time, too.

  11. I don’t think Goff was cautious and I think you have a problem with transparency. The woman and Goff need to come clean, especially given the stakes and the public interest.

    <I did already ask you not to out her again. 😉 It’s bad enough that it’s in the public sphere already. Cheers. –Ari.>

  12. I don’t think Goff was cautious

    I don’t either. I’m saying, however, that even if Phil Goff was telling everyone this woman’s name, it would STILL be irresponsible to join in outing her if she didn’t want to go public.

    Let me put it this way: I believe the accused in a rape or sexual harassment allegation is entitled to not being assumed guilty, and has no obligation to make their story public if they don’t want to. But I also apply those same standards to the person making the allegation- they get to be assumed innocent of being manipulative liars who are out to ruin someone else’s life for whatever insane reason someone would do that. And I don’t think that right to be treated as innocent, to be allowed to keep her story private, goes away just because Mr. Goff drops enough hints that someone can find out who she is.

    What I’m asking is if you somehow think that this becomes Goff’s fault rather than the people who did the actual outing, and how you reconcile that with some pretty fucked up analogous cases where you’d end up blaming assault and rape victims for not doing everything perfectly to prevent being victimised- despite the fact that the responsible person is the one who actually did something wrong.

    …and I think you have a problem with transparency. … and Goff need to come clean, especially given the stakes and the public interest.

    No, I quite like transparency in general, but I don’t think we have a right to know every detail when a person is sexually harassed, just like we don’t have the right to know about someone’s injuries if they’re beaten up. If they choose to go public, that’s their choice, but otherwise I think these things can be handled with sensitivity in private, and the public can get to know the nature of what happened (but not the details) after.

    Too often “transparency” in these sort of situations is just an excuse for people to pile onto someone who’s already been victimised once and challenge their character. That’s not okay- the victim of sexual harassment deserves the same sensitivity as victims of any other nature.

  13. Sorry, I think I mentioned her last name only which you published from my earlier comment so I thought that it was OK.

    I disagree it was irresponsible (to out her). The story so far is that it’s all smoke and mirrors from Goff, and if she’s going to play such games, her identity is fair game. There isn’t a police investigation in her case (unlike the Korean woman’s one), so I can’t see what the problem is. Goff has scurrilously released some harmless SMSs to the media, upping the stakes. He and her must take responsibility for their actions – they can’t have it both ways. This is all a political game and far from the egregious rape example you compare it with.

    You claim sexual harassment now, but from what we’ve read in the media, that’s drawing a long bow. Otherwise I would agree with your final point.

  14. Firstly: I don’t even need to know or suspect any justification to someone’s claim to be a victim to treat them with the respect a victim deserves. I’ll deal with fakers afterwards, if need be. I know this is a weakness a lot of us have, (including myself) but you seem hyped up on detecting cheats to such a degree that you might well be attacking someone who’s done nothing wrong. My standards of behaviour on this matter are about not making that sort of mistake.

    Secondly: I’m not claiming a crime was committed. I’m talking about harassment as a type of behaviour rather than as a legal concept. A victim of harassment is a victim if they suffered from harassing behaviour, whether or not a crime was technically committed. Morally it’s all the same, and all the same moral rights apply to both the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator.

    Thirdly: I’d assume the same rights for someone who’s a victim of anything, from theft to violence to harassment to sexual harassment or rape. It’s just that sexual crimes and misdeeds are the ones where victims are worst targetted, so they’re the ones those of us who object to mistreating alleged victims need to speak out the most.

    By the by, I’m pretty sure a caught and edited all mentions of said name- I only approve each user once so your comments go straight up unless you badly misbehave. 😉 I’ll check again just to be sure. Thanks for understanding.

    You claim sexual harassment now, but from what we’ve read in the media, that’s drawing a long bow. Otherwise I would agree with your final point.

    While I’m inclined to believe this allegation, I only need the allegation itself to insist on decent treatment. Even if it looks suspicious, we should hold off on attacking anyone or assuming political conspiracies or outing them when they want a private hearing or don’t want allegations made at all or whatever else, until the allegation is heard or they decide to go public or whatever else applies. If an allegation is dismissed, or proof positive the alleged victim was lying reaches the public domain, THEN I think the gloves are off. (Well, at least, beyond personal standards of decency)

    Likewise if you were a victim, or anyone else I disagree with in any part of politics- from John Key to David Garrett. You have a right not to have your allegations sabotaged by attacks on your character, which are frankly quite irrelevant to what you or someone else may have done.

  15. Yep, I missed one. Pronouned it. Thanks for mentioning.

  16. Re 1st paragraph. You have a reasonable point but I guess it’s about reading the signals. A faker was fast approaching the horizon here. Let’s make no mistake about that. You seem so intent on protecting the victim. Do you know how much harm a false rape victim causes to genuine victims? So selfish of them though you seem intent on giving them the benefit of the doubt until “later”. Read the signals.

    Re: 2nd paragraph: Okay I didn’t mean to imply as such but lets not play the legal game here as I was also not pursuing it. My point here is that the sensibilities of a legal case need NOT be considered, since it doesn’t exist (unlike the Korean case, as I also said). It became clear that this was a political set-up and therefore all players (incl. Worth) are fair game. And including “her”. I maintain this view. Convince me otherwise (or at least that she was genuinely innocent).

    I guess your third para is much the same as the second. Anyway I reply the same. Lets not assume who the victim is!

    And then you go on to say “I only need the allegation itself to insist on decent treatment.” which goes back to my earlier responses. Are you so sure it was all so innocent? What if she was really setting a ‘honey trap’. Would you defend her “victim” rights so much having that knowledge? What if it was Nat and Lab switched? Again, would you defend her “victim” rights so much? As I said earlier, false victims hurt real victims more then anything in front of the decision makers, so be careful who you back here.

    And why should we “hold off” if it looks suspicious? All the more reason to dig in and get to the bottom of it, at least it will protect real victims!! And if it turns out genuine then the digging will bring that that to the surface. The false prophets must be exposed.

    You really fail to understand justice. One makes the allegations, the other has the right to defend. It’s that simple. If we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t have justice as we know it.

  17. Do you know how much harm a false rape victim causes to genuine victims? So selfish of them though you seem intent on giving them the benefit of the doubt until “later”. Read the signals.

    Which is why I think we should act like the alleged perpetrator innocent, too. I can’t help if other people won’t give someone the benefit of the doubt. That said, men tend to be excused from cases like this much more easily than women are. Look at Tony Veitch, he had supporters lining up behind him and offering high-profile jobs even when things looked really bad.

    My point here is that the sensibilities of a legal case need NOT be considered, since it doesn’t exist (unlike the Korean case, as I also said).

    My point is that the same standards of treating alleged victims and perpetrators with dignity still apply in every case, legal or not. 🙂

    It became clear that this was a political set-up and therefore all players (incl. Worth) are fair game. And including “her”. I maintain this view. Convince me otherwise (or at least that she was genuinely innocent).

    It’s not at all clear that it’s a political set-up, even if Mr. Goff ended up potentially having some advantage from it. This is what I’m talking about when I mention getting into conspiracy theories- the principle of economy applies here. If you can’t make a decent case for it outright, you shouldn’t be attacking someone who could be a victim with it.

    And why should we “hold off” if it looks suspicious? All the more reason to dig in and get to the bottom of it, at least it will protect real victims!! And if it turns out genuine then the digging will bring that that to the surface. The false prophets must be exposed.

    Because “trying to get to the bottom of it” is not a process that treats people who are innocent fairly, as you yourself pointed out about false rape allegations. Likewise for falsely alleging a victim is lying- there is harm done that can’t be taken back. Better that we give BOTH parties the benefit of the doubt until some proof emerges.

    You really fail to understand justice. One makes the allegations, the other has the right to defend. It’s that simple. If we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t have justice as we know it.

    Right, that’s how it works in court. I’m talking about in the public arena, in newspapers, on TV, on blogs, what have you. Allegations and defenses are for in court or in a hearing with your boss or whatever, and even then we accept certain limits on defenses that attack an alleged victim.

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