An internal investigation is under way after a file containing the name and personal details of a sexual assault victim was left on the dashboard of a police car.

The photo was emailed to the Herald by a concerned reader who spotted it on Monday night.

"The photos below show a detective vehicle which was parked outside [Countdown] Quay St on Monday evening," the reader said.

"Clearly visible on the dash of the vehicle were confidential files which clearly show victim names and address.

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"This is disgraceful and I encourage you to bring this to the public's attention."

The victim's full name, address, age, date of birth and case number was visible on the front page of the report.

No other pages could be seen.

But the front page also reveals the time, date and location of the alleged assault and that the victim made the initial complaint to a woman working at the public counter of the Auckland City Police station.

The file was then assigned to a senior detective.

The Herald has chosen not to name either staff member as it is unclear who exactly was in possession of the file or left it on the dashboard.

Under New Zealand law every victim of sexual assault has automatic, permanent name suppression.

Unless they chose to waive that statutory right by applying to the court to have their name published, they can never be identified.

Auckland City District Commander Superintendent Karyn Malthus confirmed the incident was under investigation following inquiries by the Herald on Wednesday.

"Police are making immediate inquiries into this apparent privacy breach where a file has been left visible in a police car," she said.

"Police are taking this matter very seriously and inquiries are under way to establish exactly what has happened.

"We have spoken with the victim this evening to apologise and will ensure that she is supported."

Malthus said police accepted this kind of error was "unacceptable".

But she wanted to assure the community that their details were safe when they reported a crime.

"We deal with tens of thousands of assault matters each year and have rules and procedures in place to protect the privacy of these victims," Malthus said.

"An internal investigation is under way and until we make further inquiries we are unable to comment any further except to reiterate that the privacy of victims is paramount to police."

Police Minister Paula Bennett was aware of the incident but could not comment in detail.

"This is an operational matter for police to deal with," Bennett said.

"But I've been assured that they're taking the matter seriously."

Victim advocate Ruth Money, who works with many people who have been subjected to sexual abuse, was outraged when told about the incident.

"We all work so hard in this space to ensure victims are at the centre of all that we do," she said.

"Victims are why we all do what we do, and then some complete bozo who clearly hasn't got their brain engaged leaves a file visible like that, is it any wonder advocates like me struggle to get victims to trust that they are safe and in the centre of all processes?"

A file containing the name and personal details of a sexual assault victim were left on the dashboard of a police car. Photo posed by model / 123RF
A file containing the name and personal details of a sexual assault victim were left on the dashboard of a police car. Photo posed by model / 123RF

Money said it was "a shame" the officer, whom she described as a "twit" had potentially compromised victim's feeling safe and supported.

"While I appreciate this is a human mistake, we expect police to be extraordinary, and when it comes to victims of any crime let alone sexual assaults this error is unforgivable," she said.

"I'm deeply concerned about what this officers' actions say about how they treat the files of victims, not respectfully that's for sure."

A spokesman from the Privacy Commissioner's Office said the incident was concerning.

"We are certainly concerned about any agency leaving such sensitive information in public view," he said.

"We won't comment on the specifics of this particular incident because it may well become a complaint to our office, at which point we would look into the detail of the case."

Agencies are expected to report data breaches to the Commissioner.

"Particularly of such sensitive material," the spokesman said.

"This is also an example of the risks of taking personal information off site.

"While taking personal information off site is a key part of many jobs, people who do so need to make sure they take steps to mitigate privacy risks."

Help Auckland 24/7 helpline 09 623 1700
Rape Prevention Education
Wellington Help 24/7 crisisline 04 801 6655, push 0
Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent. www.whiteribbon.org.nz
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