This article is based on extracts from the Speaking Secrets podcast, a co-production by NZ Herald and Newstalk ZB. For the full episode with former naval officer Hayley Young, as well as further interviews with Canterbury University professor Elisabeth McDonald and Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue, listen to the podcast below. You can subscribe to Speaking Secrets on iHeartRadio and iTunes.

Hayley Young found telling the Navy about her rape worse than the act itself.

The "soul-destroying" attack happened one evening in 2009 after Young had been drinking with colleagues.

Almost a decade later, when she is intimate with her husband, the former officer still gets occasional flashbacks to the rape.

"If your mind wanders, it's really easy to imagine that you're back in that room and it's happening and it's not your husband and it's someone else," she said.

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Hayley Young felt vulnerable and alone after months of sexual harassment on deployment in the navy. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Hayley Young felt vulnerable and alone after months of sexual harassment on deployment in the navy. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Young, who was posted in the UK when she was raped, successfully lifted her name suppression last year so she could speak out against sexual abuse and harassment publicly for the first time.

"To have been raped, to me anyway, just felt like I had been completely desecrated, just used by someone and spat out and thrown away," she said.

Young never pressed criminal charges against the man she has accused of raping her.

She said the real problem was the culture within the Navy.

She said she had experienced months of sexual banter and objectifying comments from colleagues leading up to the event.

"I just felt so vulnerable and so alone and in a foreign country and I completely trusted this guy."

Afterwards, she felt sick to her stomach. She didn't tell the Navy about what happened until she left the Defence Force.

"Telling the Navy was by far the hardest thing I've ever had to do. It was so re-traumatising and probably worse than the event itself," she said.

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One of the things that made it so hard was Young's fears of what people would say about her and how the case would be handled.

"I fell into a huge deep depression, I lost a hell of a lot of weight. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep. I was shaking all the time and just constantly crying in private. I've never felt so weak in my entire life."

Young has rebuilt herself with therapy, self-love and exercise.

She is now in the midst of a legal battle. She wants to argue the New Zealand and British defence forces failed to keep her safe.

Young is waiting for a Court of Appeal decision on whether she can bring her case for compensation against the British Government here in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Defence Force said it could not comment on the case because the matter is before the courts.

Young has never regretted speaking out because she knew she wouldn't be able to let it go and it would fester inside her if she hadn't done anything about it.

"But if you're not at that stage, then keep it to yourself and just look after you. You come first, you're the most important and it's not your shame to carry, it's theirs."