A former naval officer taking a precedent-setting legal challenge after she was raped while serving overseas says she is “sickened” at Defence Force attempts to block the case.
The woman won a major legal victory this week in her bid to hold the New Zealand Government to account after she was allegedly raped while on a deployment in the United Kingdom in 2009 by a British officer.
The attack took place after months of sexual harassment and abuse by male colleagues – including male staff members betting buckets of KFC chicken on which female officers could be sexually “conquered”.
She has been fighting to take the New Zealand and British Governments to court in New Zealand for not providing her with a safe working environment.
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The New Zealand Attorney-General and the British Ministry of Defence wanted her case heard in Britain where the alleged rape took place – but she couldn’t afford to pursue the case in the UK.
In a decision released last week, Justice Simon France chucked-out the Attorney-General’s argument, ruling the woman’s case can be heard in New Zealand.
However, Justice France ruled the allegations levelled at the British Government could not be dealt with in New Zealand.
The woman said while she had won, the victory felt “disappointing” due to the New Zealand and British Governments road blocking her.
“It worries me they could be so petty as to put me through the unnecessary burden of a protest to jurisdiction, and seemingly waste taxpayers money with all their lawyers,” she said.
If she had lost the fight to have the case heard in New Zealand, she would have had to drop it.
“I have an overwhelming sense of disappointment that our Government would even try to undermine my complaint, and try to send me to the other side of the world to raise a complaint about failings within the New Zealand navy’s systems.”
“If they are just playing a legal game to make me go away and my complaints go unheard, then that is equally sickening and worrying for other victims.”
The woman’s lawyer, Jol Bates, said it was a massive win for his client, and all other civil servants working abroad.
“New Zealand Defence Force’s obnoxious position that it did not owe any legal duty of care to take reasonable steps to provide the woman with a safe place of work will now go to trial,” he said.
“Their efforts to stymie her case and ensure her allegations never see the light of day have failed, and have been a total waste of taxpayers money.”
The Defence Force’s attempts to push the case overseas sent a dangerous message to other victims of sexual abuse, Bates said.
“My client is a brave woman. Ever since she raised the courage to complain she has been treated with disdain by the NZDF,” he said.
“It is hard enough for victims of sexual violence to come forward without such tactics being employed to prevent such a case proceeding.”
The Defence Force declined to comment as the matter is before the courts.
A date for the the next court appearance is yet to be set.