The fourth episode of Youth Wings discusses sexual harassment. Here, Young Act’s former vice president describes her experience – which includes an account of misogynist and sexual messages – and why she quit the group.
It’s only August, but Young Act has had a big year. There was its O-week drug legalisation policy announcement, its lockdown rent strike and, most seriously, the investigation into sexual harassment in the party’s youth wing.
The Young Act episode of The Spinoff’s Youth Wings series includes excerpts from an interview with Ali Gammeter, the youth wing’s ex-vice president. Gammeter resigned from her role and from the Act Party entirely in May, citing sexual harassment as the reason for her decision.
The comments thread of a Facebook live stream in early May saw a flurry of offensive and misogynistic comments, particularly from two members of Young Act, she told The Spinoff. She removed the two members in question from one of Young Act’s Facebook forums.
According to Gammeter, Young Act’s president, Felix Poole, objected to her removal of the members from the Facebook group, believing there should be some kind of process in place. Gammeter felt the members’ behaviour warranted swift action. “I don’t think we saw eye-to-eye,” she said. She resigned that evening.
“I noticed, even before I became vice president, that there was quite a lot of quite subtle sexual harassment sort of behaviour, and quite subtle misogyny among a lot of the members,” she said. “That built up over time.”
She’s previously described the harassment as pack behaviour, and screenshots shown to The Spinoff reveal targeted harassment towards Gammeter. “I would say that it started with two people last year, and I guess they sort of developed a circle around them,” she said.
“If you count dicks as drugs I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve taken over 100,” was one Facebook comment directed at Gammeter. There were many more in a similar vein. A private event was also created on Facebook with the purpose of getting Gammeter intoxicated so that she would go home with this same commenter. The commenter is understood to now be associated with the New Conservatives.
“I called Ali a bitch and told her to fuck herself and now she’s quitting. I hope I contributed to this,” said one commenter in a Young Act group chat.
“Gap it before what happens to Ali happens to you,” warned another.
Many comments, both in private messages and in Facebook groups, come off as misogynistic, homophobic, and racist. Gammeter wasn’t the only target of harassment. Azaria Howell, who says she was sexually assaulted by a member of Young Act earlier this year, is also tagged in homophobic messages.
In response to Gammeter’s resignation, Poole and other members of the youth wing’s executive committee stayed up until the small hours of the night drafting a press release. Poole pledged to remove several of the members who received complaints and form an equity committee, finishing the work Gammeter had started on an equity policy. Kartini Clarke, an 18-year-old woman, was appointed equity officer and two other members of the committee were chosen from outside the party.
Gammeter said the equity committee was disbanded soon after it was formed when the two external members left. “I think they quit because of the way the policy was being used, which was incorrectly. They couldn’t, in good faith, stay and support the youth wing.”
What of Poole? “I think that Felix did the right thing when he shut down the entire youth wing,” said Gammeter.
Poole, a 22-year-old law student, confirmed in The Spinoff Youth Wings debate recorded earlier this month that Young Act had suspended most activity pending the completion of an investigation. Since May there have been no nangs stunts or rent strikes in sight. Young Act’s Twitter account has posted nothing since the press release about Gammeter’s resignation and its Facebook groups were archived, although it appears at least one has had an unofficial re-opening.
In July, Howell told The Spinoff she and Gammeter were still receiving messages of a harassing nature.
Last week ex-equity officer Clarke resigned from her candidacy for Auckland Central, stating her mental health was made worse by blackmail, threats, abuse, and sexual harassment from outside of the party.
The nature of the harassment alleged by Gammeter, Clarke and Howell varies, encompassing assault, threats and slutshaming; the individuals about whom allegations have been made include members of Young Act and others outside of the party. During the first day of filming Youth Wings, Poole said: “My opinion on youth wings, in general, is they’re actually very toxic places.”
Five months later, during the Youth Wings debate, he addressed sexual harassment more specifically. “It’s a wider problem in youth politics. We’ve seen it in Young Labour. We’ve seen it in the Young Nats. We’ve seen it in politics at large; people who we expect to be more mature engage in this activity.”
Gammeter agrees. “I think although sexual harm and sexual harassment is quite a pervasive and endemic issue, I think in politics, in particular, it’s a lot more concentrated,” she said.
“We do take this seriously,” said Poole. “We do need to do better, and Young Act will do better.”
In early May, the Act party commissioned employment lawyer Andrea Twaddle to undertake an investigation into the allegations and the culture of Young Act. The investigation is understood to have been completed, and the report is being finalised.