JUST hours after NSW Ambulance was slammed in Newcastle District Court for doing "nothing whatsoever" to protect a Hunter paramedic from repeated unwanted advances from her boss, the service issued a state-wide sexual harassment prevention strategy.
The policy, issued to all staff last month, came a day after former Merriwa ambulance station manager John Doepel appeared in court to unsuccessfully appeal his conviction for repeatedly sexually harassing a junior female paramedic.
It was eight years after the victim, Annette Henry, made her first complaint to NSW Ambulance that fell on deaf ears. In a victim's impact statement read in court on Monday, Ms Henry lamented the lack of action by her employer.
"The service has now released a manifesto of how to deal with people of your ilk moving forward," she said.
"It only took them eight years and yet a systemic lack of accountability where plausible deniability was left in 2014, and I still find them lacking.
"Lacking because we are expected to operate with an honour that they themselves do not ascribe to."
According to an email sent to staff in November by NSW Ambulance chief executive Dominic Morgan, the new policy responds to the "important social and work issue of sexual harassment and gender discrimination".
Dr Morgan said the focus was on equipping employees with the knowledge and skills to take responsibility and action to create a respectful workplace.
"At the heart of this strategy is the acknowledgement that sexual harassment is not only a work health and safety matter, but a cultural issue that needs to be tackled at every level of our organisation," he wrote.
"There is still much we need to do, want to do and must do, to continue to build a respectful workplace culture free from harassment, including sexual harassment."
Ms Henry was a paramedic in training when she was subjected to 18 months of repeated sexual harassment by Doepel. Despite complaining several times, Doepel was allowed to continue working as a paramedic for three years and finally resigned before the outcome of an internal investigation.
Ms Henry said NSW Ambulance's "impotent response" gave Doepel "permission" to keep offending. She said NSW Ambulance told her in a "thousand ways" that she was responsible for the harassment.
"My ambulance service has been complicit in a level of hubris that I will never truly understand because without there being an open, accountable, transparent system of self evaluation this situation is destined to self perpetuate...," she said.
"I was promised it would all be over within weeks. This month it will be eight years. The consequences of you and the retribution that came with reporting you has been absolute and so very near fatal."
The court heard Ms Henry attempted suicide and is still impacted after being targeted by NSW Ambulance after lodging official complaints.
"As the upper echelons of NSW Ambulance were unrelenting in their brutality, other colleagues have come to the fore in ways I could never have imagined that I would need from anyone," she said.
"They took my calls, off duty and interrupting their daily lives without hesitation as they did for any of us in need. Because they are ambos and they are extraordinary."
Ms Henry said the ordeal destroyed her belief that the truth can protect. She agreed to speak in court, rather than hide under a "very large rock somewhere" so she would not fail her younger self, who she no longer recognises.
He would follow her "around the station constantly for no reason" and regularly asked her or guessed what colour underwear she was wearing.
Doepel once brought a sign to work which read: "Liquor in the front, poker in the back". After showing it to Ms Henry, he asked if she "liked it like that".
The former intensive care paramedic and educator often made "sexually suggestive comments" about women he encountered during shifts, including that "she would go off" and "she would be good".
"The victim recalls the accused would often look at naked women who had body paint on using the Ambulance station computers and on his mobile phone," an agreed statement of facts read.
"The accused would regularly ask the victim to look at the pictures and ask if she liked them."
In mid-2015, Ms Henry was talking with colleagues about how she had completed the Kokoda trek and lost weight.
Doepel then said to another colleague as Ms Henry walked away, "as long as she never loses that arse".
The court heard that when Ms Henry used the washing machine at the ambulance station, Doepel commented that she needed to remove her handcuffs from the sheets.
The 63-year-old was convicted and sentenced to a 12-month conditional release order.
- Lifeline: 13 11 14
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