8 May 2015

MPs say harassment common

9:42 am on 8 May 2015

New research has found the country's MPs, their staff and families are exposed to high levels of harassment.

The survey found 87 percent of MPs had been the target of harassment, ranging from disturbing communications to physical violence.

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Most of the 102 - out of 121 - MPs surveyed had experienced some form of harassment. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The research from Otago University and Capital and Coast District Health Board, surveyed 102 out of 121 MPs.

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson said MPs, to some extent, were at greater risk of stalking and attack than the general population because of the nature of their work.

"I recall one guy who told me I was all sorts of rude things one day in an email, but that's part and parcel of the game I guess."

Half of the MPs surveyed said they had been threatened, and about a third had been targeted at their homes. One in seven had been attacked.

Some of these incidents were serious, and involved weapons including guns, molotov cocktails and blunt instruments.

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett was reluctant to talk about her experiences as she felt it could encourage such behaviour.

But she said she had been scared at times when behaviour towards her was violent.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said she has had her fair share of stalking in 16 years as an MP.

"The most creepy was when someone was around the house and leaving various things at doors and windows.

"But I just notified the police," she said.

Senior Labour MP Phil Goff said most people were friendly, but there were a few that felt alienated and angry.

He said they often came to an MP's office as a last resort.

"In recent years, I've had two threats to kill, one of which resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of the person who made the threat."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said she had received numerous death threats in the mail.

She said, while that was unsettling, she found it more difficult when it involved her family.

And Labour MP Jacinda Ardern said she has had some pretty scary times when she had to contact police.

She said the internet had taken harassment to another level.

"Often it is a question of how genuine is that threat and we're constantly trying to assess that," Ms Ardern said.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said he too, has had to contact police on a number of occasions.

"I'm always more concerned for my family's safety, than my own."

He said it was an unacceptable part of the job.

Screen out mentally ill, says author

One of authors of the study has suggested setting up a service to screen out abusive people who are often mentally ill.

Justin Barry-Walsh said the incidence of harassment of New Zealand MPs was similar to that recorded overseas, but there was a greater incidence of property abuse here, probably because more people know where MPs live.

He told Morning Report identifying and treating the mentally ill people who are often involved in these abuses has proved effective in Britain and in Queensland.

"That seems to work very well, and we've had preliminary discussions with the Speaker of the House and the Minister of Health, who have both been very supportive of that idea."

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