Model and talent agency offer to Rotorua teen victim of ‘racial profiling’

A model and talent agency has offered an opportunity to a Rotorua teenager to make her feel empowered after the teen says she was the victim of an upsetting “racial profiling” incident.

Janey Hughes from Exposure Talent and Model Agency has offered Aiomai Nuku-Tarawhiti, 15, a position as a way to make up for what happened while shopping at Farmers at Tauriko in Tauranga with her cousin last Saturday.

Aiomai and Shae Brown, 25, from Tauranga say they were the victims of “racial profiling” by a Farmers staff member who told Aiomai she looked “undesirable” and asked them to leave because they didn’t look like they were going to buy something and looked like they could steal something.

They said they had been walking the aisles trying to find a specific perfume bottle Aiomai wanted to buy her mother for Christmas when they were approached and told security had alerted staff to their actions.

They said the staff member told them if they wanted to stay, they would need to be followed while they shopped. The cousins said the staff member turned to Aiomai and said she looked “undesirable”.

The cousins spoke out about the incident to the Rotorua Daily Post on Tuesday in the hope it stopped similar incidences. In a tearful video, Aiomai detailed the hurt it had caused.

Her grandfather, Hone Tarawhiti, has made a complaint with Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon.

Farmers said in an email to the Rotorua Daily Post: “We are currently undertaking an investigation into this matter. This is still under way. Once we have completed this investigation we will deal directly with the family.”

Farmers also posted a statement on its Facebook page on Friday afternoon.

“Farmers is currently addressing the incident that took place at our Tauriko store last weekend. We take this matter very seriously and are working directly with the family and the Human Rights Commission. We would ask that you allow the parties to deal with this matter in a calm and respectful way.”

Brown said Farmers contacted the family on Thursday but they were unable to discuss the contents as the matter was before the Human Rights Commission.

She said they had been inundated with support from the public and businesses offering gifts and donations. She said they were humbled and grateful for the support and would make individual contact shortly.

Hughes was one of many who offered support. In an email to the Rotorua Daily Post, she said she was moved by watching Aiomai’s video.

She said she wanted to do something to help so the young women knew the incident wasn’t “indicative of the norm in our beautiful country”.

She said her agency offered work opportunities in film, television and modelling roles.

Clients selected the faces they wanted for their projects.

“It can be very self-affirming to be contacted and told someone wants you simply because of the way you look and while there are no guarantees of this happening, I believe it may be empowering for Aiomai to be offered the opportunity to be considered.”

Aiomai’s mother, Anewa Nuku-Tawhiti, said the offer was overwhelming and they would seriously consider it when they replied to all their emails, cards and phone calls of support.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson also contacted the Rotorua Daily Post to pass on a message of support.

“I just wanted to let Aiomai know that I watched the videos of her story and from the moment she speaks I can see her power and deep beauty and mana. She is a force for her people and she has made so many of us so proud and in awe of her strength and leadership.”

Davidson is also the Family Violence and Sexual Violence Prevention Minister. She said they had just launched a strategy to eliminate family violence and sexual violence and there was a link between strengthening communities and whānau and ending racism.

“So Aiomai is being a change-maker in helping with this māhi to build loving communities and I thank her again as a minister.”

The Rotorua Daily Post has also been contacted by people wanting to send gifts or money to the cousins, including one approach from Qiane Matata-Sipu, who is the creator of a self-published book called Nuku.

Matata-Sipu said her book shared stories of 100 indigenous women aged 14 to mid-70s and she wanted to donate a copy to Aiomai.

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