The Dominion Post
Defence Force says sorry
A former naval officer has been issued a sweeping apology by the New Zealand Defence Force for the sexual harassment she endured while serving.
Hayley Browne (nee Young) has been fighting the New Zealand and British governments for the past five years for not providing a safe work environment after she was allegedly raped by a British naval employee while on deployment with the NZDF.
Her legal wrangling came to an end last week when, in a rare move, an apology was issued by Attorney-General David Parker on behalf of the NZDF, along with a confidential compensation payment.
‘‘I am really happy with what I have achieved, and that I stayed true to what I believe in and did not give up,’’ Browne told Stuff.
As part of the settlement, the chief of navy will meet with Browne, as well as top naval brass, to discuss her experience and receive feedback and advice on how to improve its culture.
The apology covers the way her complaint was handled, the conditions she served under, and how she was retraumatised.
‘‘We are sorry for the conditions you served under in the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN), including the sexual harassment you experienced in the RNZN in New Zealand and on New Zealand ships.
‘‘We are sorry that the NZDF system failed to empower you to raise the issues you faced,’’ part of the apology reads.
The alleged rape took place in 2009 while Browne was on deployment in Britain, after she had suffered months of sexual harassment and abuse – including staff members betting on which female officers could be sexually ‘‘conquered’’.
Despite Browne leaving the navy and complaining about her treatment, her image was subsequently used without her permission to promote women joining the armed forces.
When she launched her legal proceedings, both the British and New Zealand governments wanted the case heard in Britain. The Supreme Court later ruled that the case against the British Government – which engaged high-profile lawyer Amal Clooney – could not be heard in New Zealand.
However, Browne won the right to have the case against the New Zealand Government heard on home soil.
When the NZDF offered to apologise earlier this year and work alongside her to change the culture within the organisation, Browne decided to settle the case.
‘‘This was always about driving cultural change. Although the military are not there yet, they have made some significant steps in the right direction.’’
In 2016, the NZDF set up Operation Respect, which was aimed at reducing sexual harassment and harmful sexual behaviour, after research showed the existence of ‘‘persistent sexism’’.
Browne’s lawyer, Jol Bates, said the case paved the way for servicewomen to be protected in the future.
‘‘Finally, after years of exhausting litigation, the apology, which so easily could have been given on day one, has been given to Hayley and I’m thrilled she finally got what she needed and deserved, and there is some therapeutic justice for her at long last.’’
Browne said she would now focus on her campaign to run for Napier City Council.
‘‘I have come a long way, and I have really enjoyed being able to advocate for people at such a high level. That is why I am running for council.’’
When asked to comment on the case, an NZDF spokesman said: ‘‘Our apology speaks for itself.’’