Within the formal, wood-paneled walls of the New Zealand Parliament chamber, woman after woman stepped in front of microphones Wednesday to take umbrage at a comment Prime Minister John Key made the day before. The women stood up one by one and — with some variation — began her remarks like this: “As a victim of sexual assault…”
Most of them didn’t get much further.
“Order, order,” repeated increasingly exasperated Speaker David Carter, who cut off each woman before eventually declaring that any member of Parliament who “flouted” the rules must leave the chamber immediately.
After more clipped speeches, 14 members of Parliament from the Labour and Green parties were either thrown out or chose to leave the chamber, including four male Parliament members, The Guardian reported.
The protests were sparked by a comment that Key, a member of the National party, made the day before. Key was arguing against the return of New Zealanders detained on Australia’s Christmas Island — some of whom are said to have been imprisoned for sex offenses and many for petty crimes. He accused opposition-party members who support the deportations of “backing the rapists.”
“Some of the [detainees] are rapists, some of them are child molesters, and some of them are murderers,” Key said. “These are the people that the Labour party are saying are more important to support than New Zealanders who deserve protecting when they come back here.”
About three-quarters of Labour MPs walked out of parliament directly after Key’s comments on Tuesday, along with several Green members, the Guardian adds.
The following day, a number of female MPs took to the floor to share personal stories of sexual assault and demand that Key apologize.
The New Zealand Herald spoke to Labour MP Poto Williams, who said she took Key’s comments personally.
” ‘He said I supported the act of rape and rapists. That’s how it felt. And other victims would have heard those words directed to them too.’
“The Labour MP said she was in an abusive relationship for five years in her early 20s. She had previously only told a handful of family members of her sexual assault.”
Green Party MP Metiria Turei, who said she was assaulted by a stranger in the back of a taxi, also said she was offended by Key’s comments, according to the newspaper.
“[Turei] did not report the attack to police because she thought no one would believe her, she said.
“Mrs Turei said she had chosen to disclose her assault because Mr Key had trivialised rape for political gain.
” ‘There’s a point at which you have to disclose some details to genuinely represent the people who sent us here,’ she said.”
Carter said that although Key’s comments on Tuesday were not handled well at the time, he had to silence the MPs because it was too late to demand an apology.