The Air Force failed to protect vulnerable young women from a serial sex offender in its ranks.
That's the finding of a major inquiry into Sergeant Robert Roper – nicknamed "Groper Roper" by his colleagues.
Roper served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force during the 1970s and 1980s. During that time, he harassed and sexually assaulted junior staff members.
Air Force leaders turned a blind eye to many complaints about his behaviour.
Now, decades later, Roper’s victims have finally brought him to justice – and helped to change the way our Defence Force responds to sexual abuse.
Exposing a predator
Robert Roper was unmasked as a sexual predator – not by the Air Force, but by his own daughter.
Karina Andrews was sexually abused by Roper when she was a child.
As an adult, Ms Andrews helped Police to prosecute Roper. In 2015, he was convicted of sexual crimes against five women and girls, and jailed for 13 years.
After the case, Ms Andrews spoke exclusively to TVNZ’s SUNDAY programme about the horror of living with a rapist.
"I remember waking up in the morning in pain. I remember the blood on my underwear. The fear was just overwhelming," she told SUNDAY.
"This was my father. This was the man that was meant to protect me. He was meant to be the one man in my life that I could count on. And he was none of that."
Roper’s many victims
After Roper was jailed, the Defence Force commissioned an independent inquiry into his sexual offending in the Air Force.
The inquiry was led by Frances Joychild QC, who interviewed nine women who worked with Roper.
In her report, just released to 1 NEWS NOW, Ms Joychild found it was common knowledge among Air Force staff that Roper was a sex pest.
"He had sexualised nicknames. He got away with ‘pinging’ women’s bra straps, brushing his body up against young females, or coming up behind and looking over their shoulders to see down their shirts. He did these [things] in the presence of other people and without reproach," reports Ms Joychild.
Her 244-page investigation details a litany of failures and oversights that allowed Roper to assault, harass and bully female colleagues in the 1980s – many of whom are still severely traumatised.
"Roper's sexual targets were young female recruits fresh from training," writes Ms Joychild. "They had it drummed into them that they were to obey their superiors in all things… This discouraged them from making complaints and encouraged them to tolerate bad behaviour."
When complaints about Roper were made, they were never formally recorded or investigated, and he retained his position of authority. Roper left the Air Force in the 1990s.
Defence Force responds
Air Force chief Air Vice-Marshal Tony Davies has accepted the findings of the Roper inquiry, and apologised to the survivors.
"I would like to acknowledge what the survivor group went through at the hands of Robert Roper," he said in a statement to 1 NEWS NOW.
"I also acknowledge their courage throughout this process… They can be proud of their efforts… and know that they have played a significant role."
Air Vice-Marshal Davies says sex offending cannot be tolerated in the Defence Force. He says the organisation has already acted on 92 out of 97 recommendations arising from the Roper report.
In the past two years, that has included providing staff with training about "sexual ethics and respectful relationships", creating a sexual assault response team, and offering better support to staff who experience sexual misconduct.
Roper's daughter Tracey Topp – another of his victims – says she is "elated" that her father's crimes have been acknowledged by the institution that failed to stop them.
"For the past three years, this fight has taken over my life," Ms Topp said. "It has affected everything, and it's been very, very hard. We can now close this chapter and move forward, knowing that we have the support of the Defence Force."
Ms Topp says she and her sister, Karina Andrews, will continue to advocate for all survivors of sexual abuse.
"We want people to be safe, and the Defence Force is promising that they will ensure that. We expect them to keep their promise."
Robert Roper, now in his 70s, remains in jail. He has always denied his offending, and declined to comment as part of the inquiry.
If you have experienced any kind of sexual harm, visit www.safetotalk.nz or free phone 0800 044 334 to speak confidentially to a trained advisor.