The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) is facing intense scrutiny over its decision to pursue legal costs from a sex assault victim.
The High Court ruled it's highly likely Mariya Taylor suffered assault and abuse at the hands of former Air Force (RNZAF) sergeant Robert Roper in the 1980s, including being locked in a tyre cage, prodded with an iron bar, and rubbed against and groped during car rides.
But Justice Rebecca Edwards says the case can't be pursued as Ms Taylor has run out of time under the statute of limitations. There was also insufficient evidence to confirm she had complained to senior Air Force officials about the assaults.
The Defence Force is now seeking court costs from Ms Taylor, sparking outrage.
Roper has also launched a bid to cover legal costs, while currently serving a 13-year sentence for rape and sexual assault, including against his own daughters.
One of them, Karina Andrews, says this particular development has floored her - and all of her support is behind Ms Taylor.
"I'm quite disgusted [the NZDF is] going with the costs. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says they aren't going to pursue it, but that doesn't stop the judge from ruling in favour of the Defence Force and Robert Roper".
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David Shields agrees. The former RNZAF corporal, who served during the same time period in the 1980s, has become an almost unofficial spokesperson for ex-service personnel, who are horrified by the Defence Forces' actions.
He posted a lengthy statement to a private Facebook forum, which he says has resulted in thousands of comments and former personnel coming forward. He has also sent a letter to the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Ron Mark.
He has received an acknowledgment, but not an official response.
"Ex-service people are disgusted. That's the mood. People are very unhappy," Mr Shields told Newshub.
"One-on-one cases in the courts are incredibly hard to prove. If we felt we could have talked to our superiors about these types of issues then maybe this case could have been avoided."
Mr Shields believes the anger is widespread. He says a lot of ex-personnel are proud of their past service, and the relationships formed.
"You're somebody of note if you're in the military. If you're of that culture and you hear a brother or sister is being treated like this, it's the antithesis of what we represent. It's anti-us, it's not what we stand for. A lot of people are really unhappy about it".
Ms Andrews says she is worried about the precedent this sets for other people wanting to come forward with current or historic cases of abuse.
"If [Justice Edwards] rules in favour, it's going to put any kind of work that anyone's done to bring victims forward, back years and years. They're going to be too afraid to report the crime. The pressure should be on her to rule against the Defence Force and against Roper.
"It's actually undermining the good work of Operation Respect. [The NZDF] is trying to make the work environment better, but this will set it back".
The NZDF is refusing to comment while the matter is before the courts.
If you have witnessed or experienced sexual harassment or assault and would like to speak to someone, you could call the HELP support service.
- Auckland: (09) 623 1700 or visit helpauckland.org.nz
- Wellington: (04) 801 6655 or visit wellingtonhelp.org.nz
Other places to find help and support:
Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
Samaritans - 0800 726 666
- Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
- Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)