On Wednesday night, Young Act’s vice president announced her resignation, citing ongoing harassment. The executive is now promising a cultural overhaul, reports Josie Adams.
Young Act, the youth branch of right-wing political party Act, has been accused of fostering a culture of sexual harassment and slut-shaming, leading to the resignation of its vice president in protest at her treatment by members.
Ali Gammeter, an 18-year-old student at the Victoria University of Wellington, says the ongoing sexual harassment had become bad enough that she felt she needed to resign. “When I joined, the harassment was there but it wasn’t as bad,” she told The Spinoff. “It’s got worse over the past few months.”
According to Gammeter, the harassment occurred both online and in real life. Young men have behaved inappropriately in comment threads, in private messages, and in person. She said she has been groped and objectified, and that other women in Young Act have experienced similar treatment.
Comments in a meme group for Young Act supporters included conjecture about Gammeter’s sexual history and ability, and “jokes” about her including the line “like a sausage down a hallway”. On social media, past and present members of Young Act’s meme groups have called her a “bitch” and a “fraud” for speaking out.
Gammeter was unwilling to pinpoint specific perpetrators of harm in Young Act because she felt there were too many. “There were a few who repeatedly did it, but it was pack behaviour,” she said. “It’s a cultural problem.”
She removed two members from the meme page on Wednesday night for their behaviour, which was more of the same harassment and slut-shaming, she said. “Then, the president added them back,” she said, referring to Young Act president Felix Poole. At that point she resigned, later tweeting that she had done so after being “sexually harassed, slut-shamed and ignored”.
“I don’t think they really understand what it’s like,” said Gammeter of some of the male members of the Young Act executive, who have been made aware of the behaviour several times over the course of months. “They didn’t take it seriously enough.”
The day after Gammeter’s resignation, Young Act president Felix Poole issued a press release detailing the immediate actions of the group’s executive: removing “several of the members in question”, beginning the formation of an equity committee, and appointing a woman member, Kartini Clarke, to the newly created role of equity officer.
Poole told The Spinoff the members removed were not the same two Gammeter had unsuccessfully removed from the meme group the night before. However, the pair Gammeter tried to remove “will have their memberships extinguished in all likelihood at the next executive meeting”.
Poole agreed with Gammeter’s assessment that the harassment was at least partially a result of the youth wing’s culture. “A culture change is needed, Ali is correct,” he said.
Meanwhile comments similar to those that upset Gammeter have continued to appear in Facebook groups connected to the organisation.
Gammeter said that when she first raised concerns about harassment and inappropriate behaviour with the executive, she was told to begin drawing up an equity policy that might be used to deal with it. Poole said the policy Young Act will use will be based on this work, which he, Gammeter and another member of the executive began collaborating on a month ago. “It’s fair to say Ali did most of the work as we were all working on different things in the youth wing at the time.”
Poole said the policy wouldn’t be properly implemented until Young Act has conferred with outside groups.
Benjamin McKie, a member of the Green Party, has been appointed as an external advisor to the nascent equity committee. McKie has disclosure training and is a member of multiple sexual harm organisations, and his role will be to facilitate cooperation between Young Act and external organisations to make sure its equity policies and response plans around disclosures are sufficient. He has said his role will be apolitical.
Young Act has always operated relatively independently of its parent party, but Act is understood to be taking Gammeter’s concerns seriously and considering an independent investigation. When asked for comment by The Spinoff, Act party leader David Seymour pointed to comments already made by party president Tim Jago.