Natasha Knauer wants young employees to know their rights. Picture: Lachie Millard
Natasha Knauer wants young employees to know their rights. Picture: Lachie Millard

‘I’ve been through hell’: Sex victim’s hotel message

Sexual harassment victim Natasha Knauer spent her 20s fighting her former employer, a major hotel and resort company, for her right to compensation and legal costs.

Ms Knauer, who was sexually assaulted by an elderly Oaks Hotel and Resorts night caretaker in 2010, when she was 21, says she has been through hell in the past 10 years.

The Court of Appeal heard in 2018 that Ms Knauer was encouraged by a senior Oaks staff member to stay in a unit with one of its hotel caretakers, while she worked in another of its Brisbane hotels.

The elderly night caretaker had been allowed to live in the unit rent-free in exchange for him providing after-hours caretaking services at Oaks Lexicon Hotel.

After Ms Knauer moved into the spare bedroom of the caretaker's Lexicon unit, she woke at 5am to find him naked in her room.

The caretaker, who was supposed to be training her, then indecently assaulted her and only left after she broke down crying.

A court heard he returned soon after, saying "This can be our little secret''.

In 2014, a tribunal member found that Oaks Hotels and Resorts was vicariously liable for a contravention of the Anti-Discrimination Act by the caretaker.

He found the sexual assault occurred in the course of the caretaker's work.

But since then Ms Knauer has been dragged through a series of appeals in tribunals and the Court of Appeal, which upheld the tribunal decision.

Even after she was awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation in 2016, Oaks appealed that decision as well as costs decisions up to this year.

"I've tried to take my own life. I was very close … I tried to hang myself at my family home,'' Ms Knauer, 31, revealed.

Now happily involved in a new career in the aged care industry, she wants to send a message that the hotel industry should respect, support and protect young employees.

"I've been through hell, but I'm glad I persevered. I've survived it,'' Ms Knauer said.

Maurice Blackburn lawyer Paloma Cole said: "There was never any dispute that the assault took place, but Oaks has fought this case at every turn."

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