18 Dec 2017

Navy sex attack victim speaks out

8:08 am on 18 December 2017

Former navy sailor Hayley Young has joined the growing group of women waiving name suppression in order to speak out against sexual abuse from those in the armed forces.

Ms Young said she was raped while on deployment in the United Kingdom.

no caption

Photo: AFP

She joined the Navy in 2008 and was on her first sea deployment on a Royal Navy ship six months later when the sexual harassment began.

"Just kind of lewd comments and stuff and then it built up to I would get propositioned for sex - the most I counted was six times in one day... then they took surveys of who wanted to have sex with me while I was in the room and unable to leave."

The comments progressed to being groped while walking up a ladder, and Ms Young said she lost track of what was acceptable behaviour and what wasn't.

"Just that constant degrading and objectifying of women.

"I was surprised, but it just really groomed me."

Near the end of her deployment she was raped by a British sailor.

Ms Young said she didn't feel able to make a formal complaint.

"Saying something is just absolute career suicide ... and also the shame that goes with sexual assault is just so deeply personal I couldn't expose myself to that at the time."

Ms Young is clear that she never experienced physical assaults from New Zealand sailors, but she found the same culture here.

"The objectification and degrading of women still makes up the underlying culture. I still did get the odd comment from time to time and it just made me feel uneasy and I lived in constant fear."

It wasn't until she left the navy four years later that she felt able to speak out.

She wrote a formal letter outlining her concerns about the treatment of women.

Ms Young felt Navy leaders were taking the claims seriously, until they used her photo on promotional material.

Court case alleges failure to provide safe working environment

She complained that they had failed to provide her a safe working environment and the matter is now before the High Court, with part of it headed to the Court of Appeal.

"This could have been handled at such a low level," Ms Young said.

"I got a lawyer to help me and it ended up in court because they wouldn't meet with me."

The Defence Force declined to comment on this story story because the case was before the courts, but said it last year launched a campaign, Operation Respect, to eliminate harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour among staff. The campaign included a sexual ethics workshop that 8000 people had so far completed.

Its statement said a dedicated sexual assault response team was place across NZDF camps and bases, and a 24/7 phone line was to NZDF personnel and their families.

Ms Young told Morning Report Operation Respect was really good but none of its principles had been applied in her case.

Lawyer Frances Joychild QC was commissioned to write a report about the Defence Force's handling of sexual assault complaints and one victim says delays in releasing it are forcing women to re-live traumatic events.

The Defence Force statement said it made a commitment to the survivor group not to comment before the group had had the opportunity to review the report. The report has been amended by the author in the light of additional information and the Air Force is reviewing it.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs