Tova O'Brien: PM Jacinda Ardern needed to act sooner on sexual assault allegations

OPINION: It should never have taken a scared young woman publicly laying out all the harrowing details of an alleged sexual assault for the Prime Minister to act. 

The message Jacinda Ardern is sending is that she needed a young woman to risk being retraumatised and having her account of a serious sexual assault pasted online, in the media, for her to take it seriously. 

Six weeks ago the Prime Minister and her office were alerted to the fact sexual assault allegations were taken to the Labour Party and that complainants said it formed part of an investigation by the party. Six weeks ago.

According to New Zealand Police, "sexual assault is a violent crime".

On the 5th and 6th of August Newshub had made it clear in reporting, and to the Prime Minister's Office, that a violent sexual crime had been reported to the Labour Party by the alleged victim of the assault. 

That should have been enough for the Prime Minister to request full details from the Labour Party about the sexual assault allegation and to then make the call she finally made to Nigel Haworth last Wednesday which precipitated his resignation as Party President. 

Instead she received an assurance from the party that no allegations of a sexual nature had been raised nor investigated. For some unfathomable reason that was enough for the Prime Minister. She took the party on its word, sweet as, never mind the fact that young, scared members of her party were saying otherwise.

Newshub obtained a copy of the sexual assault testimony on 5 August which is what allowed us to report the fact of the sexual assault allegations. We chose not to report on the details of her experience to protect the anonymity of the victim and to mitigate any risks of re-traumatisation. 

I completely understand why she felt the need to go further and publish the details and I completely respect the reporting by The Spinoff and its victim-led, sensitive handling of the story. It was the thing that finally spurred real action. 

But it shouldn't have come to that. The Prime Minister could have sought the same information she received last week, six weeks ago after learning about the sexual assault allegations. She could have taken the action she took last week which resulted in the resignation of both the party president and the accused, six weeks ago.

Six weeks ago Ardern put a QC in place (the terms of reference only just finalised this weekend) and six weeks ago, the accused agreed to stay at home (without actually being stood down from his job) but to actually light a fire under the ass of the 9th floor it took a young woman recounting a deeply traumatic experience. 

We're now hearing that complainants' names are being leaked and spread around the parliamentary gossip mill. Some complainants feel a witch hunt is underway. 

This dangerous game of matching an allegation to a person could have been avoided if the Prime Minister had acted when she first became aware of serious sexual allegations made against a Labour staffer. Six weeks ago. 

Tova O'Brien is Newshub's political editor