6 Sep 2018

Woman loses fight to claim damages after sexual assault

8:17 am on 6 September 2018

A court has accepted a woman who served in the air force was sexually harassed by a sergeant known as "Groper Roper" but barred her from claiming damages as she took legal action too late.

Entrance to the High Court in Auckland

Entrance to the High Court in Auckland Photo: justice.govt.nz

That is despite the High Court in Auckland finding that the post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression she suffered were caused by the abuse.

The ruling blocks the woman's claims against convicted rapist Robert Roper and against the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) for failing to protect her.

Roper denied he abused the woman, and the RNZAF denied she raised complaints with it.

But court found Roper did assault, bully and falsely imprison her, though not as frequently as she said.

Witnesses said he locked her in a wire-walled storage cupboard; she claimed it occurred once a month, sometimes for more than an hour, for years.

Justice Edwards found the medical evidence showed that on the balance of probabilities his abuse of her at Whenuapai airbase between 1985 and 1988 caused her "current mental injury".

But the claim had been brought too late according to the Limitation Act 1950, the judge ruled, plus ACC laws prevented anyone suing for compensatory damages over an injury they could get an ACC payment for.

The air force had indicated that if the woman's claim cleared the limitation hurdle it would have argued it could not be held liable for any loss the woman incurred.

"There is no evidence to corroborate her claim that she complained to her superiors about these acts at the time."

The judge said it was likely the woman confronted Roper to try to get the abuse to stop and he "may also have threatened to ruin her career if she ever told".

In 2014, Roper was tried and convicted of 20 counts of sexual offending against members of his family and three other women between 1976 and 1988.

This included the rape of his own daughter.