19 July 2024
MP harassment New Zealand: Democracy at risk

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MP Harassment in New Zealand: A Growing Threat to Democracy

Harassment of New Zealand’s Members of Parliament (MPs) has been escalating, posing a significant threat to democracy, according to recent research conducted by the University of Otago. The study, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, highlights the disturbing trend of increasing abuse and threats targeting parliamentarians in the country. From online abuse to threats of sexual violence, MPs in New Zealand are facing a barrage of harassment that has serious psychosocial implications.

The study, which surveyed 54 MPs, revealed that a staggering 98% of participants reported experiencing harassment, ranging from disturbing communications to actual physical violence. Lead author Professor Susanna Every-Palmer emphasized the significant impact of this harassment, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery era. The research indicated that a vast majority of MPs faced abuse related to the government’s response to the pandemic, such as lockdowns and vaccine mandates. Notably, women MPs were at a significantly higher risk of experiencing certain types of social media harassment, including gendered abuse, sexualized comments, threats of sexual violence, and threats toward their families.

Impact of Social Media Harassment on MPs

One of the most concerning findings of the study was the prevalence of social media harassment targeting MPs. Ninety-six percent of participants reported being harassed on social media, with over half receiving threats, including threats of physical violence, sexual violence, threats to family members, staff, and even death threats. The escalation of various forms of harassment compared to a similar study conducted in 2014 underscores the severity of the issue.

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The nature and context of the harassment revealed three key themes: the proliferation of racist, misogynistic, and extreme right rhetoric online; the fear of potential physical harm or even death; and a sense of inadequate support, with resources failing to keep pace with the evolving landscape of threats. Co-author Dr. Justin Barry-Walsh, a forensic psychiatrist involved in the research, highlighted the significant harm caused by such unreasonable and harmful harassment, not only to MPs but also to their families and staff. The study underscored the urgent need for a comprehensive and effective response to address this escalating issue.

Ensuring Safety and Support for MPs

The study emphasized the importance of enhancing the safety and welfare of MPs and their staff, with a particular focus on the role of services like the Police and Parliament’s security. Dr. Barry-Walsh stressed the necessity of a systemic approach to addressing the threats faced by MPs, including potential legislative changes to better protect them. It was also highlighted that monitoring and reporting on the issue alone would not suffice; MPs and their staff require additional support and resources to effectively manage these threats.

The research suggested the implementation of de-escalation, safety, and cybersecurity training for new politicians as part of their induction process. Moreover, resources should be made available to bolster home and office security measures to ensure the safety of MPs and their teams. Professor Every-Palmer emphasized the importance of acknowledging the challenges faced by MPs and encouraged them to seek support and assistance when subjected to harassment. The study aimed to validate the experiences of politicians and raise awareness about the harmful effects of harassment on individuals across the political spectrum.

Protecting Democracy and Ensuring a Cohesive Response

The research on MP harassment in New Zealand sheds light on the critical need to safeguard democracy by addressing the escalating threats faced by parliamentarians. The erosion of democracy due to continued harassment, particularly targeting women MPs, poses a significant concern that requires immediate attention. The study serves as a valuable resource for enhancing the response mechanisms aimed at protecting the safety and well-being of MPs and their staff.

The study underscores the urgency of implementing a cohesive and proactive approach to combatting harassment of MPs in New Zealand. By providing support, resources, and training to politicians and their teams, it is possible to mitigate the harmful effects of harassment and safeguard the democratic process. The findings of the research serve as a clarion call to all stakeholders, urging them to prioritize the safety and security of MPs and uphold the principles of democracy in the face of escalating threats.

Links to additional Resources:

1. www.parliament.nz 2. www.otago.ac.nz 3. www.humanrights.org.nz

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: Harassment of Members of Parliament in New Zealand, University of Otago, Frontiers in Psychiatry

Sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is a type of harassment involving the use of explicit or implicit sexual overtones, including the unwelcome and inappropriate promises of rewards in exchange for sexual favors. Sexual harassment can be physical and/or a demand or request for sexual favors, making sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, and any...
Read more: Sexual harassment

University of Otago
The University of Otago (Māori: Ōtākou Whakaihu Waka) is a public research collegiate university based in Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand. Founded in 1869, Otago is New Zealand's oldest university and one of the oldest universities in Oceania. The university was created by a committee led by Thomas Burns, and officially...
Read more: University of Otago

Frontiers Media
Frontiers Media SA is a publisher of peer-reviewed, open access, scientific journals currently active in science, technology, and medicine. It was founded in 2007 by Kamila and Henry Markram. Frontiers is based in Lausanne, Switzerland, with offices in the United Kingdom, Spain, and China. In 2022, Frontiers employed more than...
Read more: Frontiers Media

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