Director leaves victim support service before end of bullying investigation

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The nation’s lead agency supporting victims of crime and trauma is sitting on a report of allegations of intimidation, poor training and failed delivery. Photo / 123rf

By Anneke Smith of RNZ

The director at the center of a workplace bullying investigation at Victim Support resigned before it was completed.

RNZ has now read a summary of the secret report which confirms one of the charity’s officials was ‘likely’ a bully and rude.

This manager was the initial subject of the investigation; their behavior was so bad that the investigator wanted to recommend that further action be taken.

This never happened because the director resigned before the report was completed, along with another director also accused of intimidation.

“Had they remained employed by Victim Support, the recommendation would have been to undertake disciplinary investigations into their alleged conduct,” the summary reads.

RNZ first asked after the report in May and was told it would not be distributed beyond Victim Support’s board, including its main funder, the Ministry of Justice .

Since then, several ministry officials have read the full report on the condition that they keep it confidential and that staff have been provided with an executive summary.

It says that while the report did not find widespread bullying at Victim Support, there were areas where reports of bullying and unreasonable behavior by a direct or senior manager were “very high”. .

The report did not find definitive conclusions about bullying because its author could not submit allegations to managers for response without exposing who the complainants were.

In any case, the report found that the behavior of two managers was so bad that it would have warranted further action had they not left the charity before the report was completed.

“The report found that the behavior of one manager, who has since resigned, was likely bullying behavior and/or one-off instances of rudeness and disciplinary investigations should occur,” the summary reads.

“For another manager, the investigator was unable to find bullying but, had this manager still been employed, an employment investigation would have been warranted.”

Victim assistance volunteer Janine Schmidt was bullied by one of these officials, behavior she has complained about and for which the charity recently apologised.

Having volunteered for over a decade, she finally came back for a fresh start but left for good a few weeks ago.

“I quit, I don’t want to work for an organization that doesn’t have enough respect for volunteers to admit that what happened is that bad, and it’s not just me.”

Schmidt said she doesn’t believe anything has changed and has lost faith in the charity she once loved working for.

“I’ve lost respect for the people at the top and my heart goes out to the people in the offices who actually do the work.”

“I will miss sharing the experiences I have had over the past 15 years with people coming in because there aren’t many volunteers there anymore who have been there for a while.

“A big part of my heart at Victim Support was to share my knowledge and skills with the next line of people to do what we do.”

Victim support was one of the very first things Kiri Allan asked for when she became the new Minister of Justice.  Photo/Mark Mitchell
Victim support was one of the very first things Kiri Allan asked for when she became the new Minister of Justice. Photo/Mark Mitchell

The author of the report, former detective Charlotte Stevens, was hired by the Victim Support board in April last year, but only after she was directly told to take the allegations of bullying seriously.

It took an independent lawyer to complain to the police, who then wrote a report for the Ministry of Justice which told the charity to investigate them.

RNZ interviewed Board Chair Lorraine Scanlon about the summary.

She disagrees that it took a whistleblower for the bullying to be investigated and would not, or could not, elaborate on how the organization has now ensured that it can respond more quickly to any future complaints.

“Unfortunately, I cannot comment on individual staff or volunteers, processes within our organization. I believe I would not respect their privacy and confidentiality to discuss individual cases,” Scanlon said.

Victim Support continues to flag confidentiality and privacy when asked about the secret report and the allegations it is addressing.

This includes follow-up questions on the executive summary, such as how long the bullying is likely to last and why it was not stopped.

“As an organization, our staff and wellness team were working with many processes to the best of their abilities.

“And as chairman of the board, I think they’ve done a reasonably good job. They need to have better capacity, they need to be better resourced and we’re committed to doing that,” said Scanlon.

RNZ has spoken to half a dozen former staff who disagree with this sentiment and fear the issues raised in the report may persist at Victim Support.

Now, someone currently employed at Victim Support has also publicly stated the same thing.

“I think there’s a lot of information missing from the summary that shows the board aren’t really interested in fixing anything. They underestimate what the staff think about it. People don’t care. don’t feel safe.”

The person, who wished to remain anonymous, said working for the charity was stressful and employees didn’t feel like they could approach their human resources team and get an unbiased solution.

Victim support was one of the very first questions Kiri Allan asked when she became the new justice minister and has since been briefed by a senior official who had read the full report.

“My officials have assured me that the issues are not systemic, but rather relate to key people within the organization.”

Allan has pledged to take a “victim-centric” approach to the justice portfolio, but it’s unclear whether this will lead to significant changes in the way victim assistance is funded and operates.

She said the department will “actively monitor” the implementation of the report’s recommendations within the charity.

These include reviewing old complaints and apologizing to victims, as well as ensuring that the HR department communicates better.

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