A judge has slammed an appeal argument for a female social worker who grabbed another woman's crotch at a bar, saying if she had been a man she would probably have gone to prison.

Oranga Tamariki worker Bessie Hanley today appealed her conviction and sentence for indecent assault on the victim. Her lawyer said it was only low-level offending and referred to it as "inappropriate behaviour".

"Why are we calling this inappropriate? It's just a straightforward sexual assault," Justice Simon France responded.

The case was heard this morning at the High Court at Wellington, with lawyers appearing by audio visual link from Napier.


Hanley was previously sentenced to one year of supervision and ordered to pay $1500 reparation for the indecent assault, which happened in July last year.

She drunkenly approached the victim at a bar and grabbed her genitals, making "lewd" comments in her ear.

Justice France said he did not want to read out the comments in open court, but said they showed it was "not possible to say it's not sexually motivated".

Hanley's lawyer argued a conviction made it impossible for her to work in her field of youth justice social work, and that the sentencing judge was wrong to consider the offending as mid-range.

A conviction meant "there would be certain concerns" for any social work organisation to employ her to work with children, and that Hanley had no other skill set to help her into unrelated employment.

But Justice France said he was unsure how the offending could be seen as low-level.

"It's two assaults on the genital area and then a grabbing, all the while uttering lewd, to say the least, comments ... it's plainly sexual assault in anyone's language.

"If the defendant were a male that had done this, then I suggest to you the likely outcome would have been imprisonment."


But Hanley's lawyer said the offending was not sexually motivated, and Hanley only made the comments for shock value.

Justice France said a decision on the appeal could be expected later today.