16 Feb 2022

My rapist was found not guilty - Young woman horrified and revictimised during trial

8:12 am on 16 February 2022

You think you're doing the right thing by reporting your rape. You think it might help prevent the same thing happening to others. But what happens if your attacker is found not guilty?

'Olivia' was horrified and revictimised by the cross-examination during her rape trial. (composite image using stock image).

'Olivia' was horrified and revictimised by the cross-examination during her rape trial (composite image using a stock photo). Photo: RNZ/Vinay Ranchhod

Content warning: This story contains graphic descriptions and discussion of sexual assault and may be upsetting.

Most nights, when she's trying to get to sleep, Olivia* hears the words of the lawyer at her rape trial, his voice drumming in her head.

"My client would say you asked for it," it says. "He'd say you were moaning at the thought of it."

"You're lying, aren't you, Olivia? You lied two years ago and you're lying today."

"Why don't you just tell everyone what really happened?"

"Have you no morals? Do you have no morals, Olivia, that you can get up here and lie in front of all these people?"

"My client would say he was the one who asked you to leave and you wouldn't."

"He would say that he walked you to your car to make sure you got home safely."

"He would say that he gave you money to go and get yourself some dinner since he didn't feed you."

"My client would say that you unbuttoned your shirt for him."

At least she caught him out on that one, she thinks. She wasn't wearing a shirt with buttons that night.

It's been some time since the trial, but Olivia still can't believe how damaging the court process was, how brutally it treats rape victims.

"It's just unbelievable to think this grown man must know his client is lying, that he raped me," she says. "And he's still okay to get up there and yell at me like I'm the one in the wrong. It was so unbelievably eye-opening.

"You hear about these types of cases. And you go, 'Those poor girls', and that's it. You don't think about it again. But to actually experience it myself? You could never truly understand what it's like.

"All I can hope is that it just never happens to anyone I know. But the sad thing is probably every girl I know has experienced some type of sexual assault or harassment. It's so sad that people I know will have to go through this because there's no respect for women. There's no respect for the word 'no'."

For legal reasons RNZ can't use Olivia's real name-even though she wants to be named, and she wants her picture taken so people have to see and hear her. There is more graphic detail in this story than you might normally read in a piece about sexual assault, but Olivia wants to be as open as possible, partly because her attacker was found not guilty. She wants the whole gruesome process out there, so people understand not just the reality of sexual assault, but also what can happen when you go to court.

She knows how the public treats rape victims who talk. But she's speaking because she wants to help others, especially those who might not yet understand what's been done to them. She wants to draw attention, again, to our epidemic of sexual violence.

Most of all, she wants to give men yet another opportunity to understand the extremely basic principles of consent, the same behaviours we teach toddlers: That's not yours. You can't touch that. If they don't want to give that to you, they don't have to, and you don't throw a tantrum. No means no.

And yes, it is mostly men. There are plenty of statistics, but let's go with a recent survey of 700 high school students. The survey undertaken at Christchurch Girls' High School found 90 percent of alleged perpetrators were male, almost half of them adults.

And yes, it is an epidemic: 381 participants in that Christchurch school survey reported 2677 incidents of sexual harassment, or seven per student, between January and May 2021.

It's also expensive. The Ministry of Women estimates sexual violence costs New Zealand $1.2 billion each year.

If men did understand 'no', Olivia says, she wouldn't be in the position she is now, still fending off a fog of depression despite the years that have passed since the assault.

She's still struggling to care for herself. Even the basics of exercising, eating properly and sleeping seem impossible, tedious, pointless.

She's trying to cope with the guilt of having put her parents, boyfriend and grandparents through the stress of the trial - even if their support was grudging and they questioned her decisions at every step.

"But no-one wants to talk about the details," she says, in their defence. "No one wants to hear the nitty-gritty details of what someone did to their daughter."

Her parents didn't sleep for weeks before the court date. Her mum said, "Come on Olivia, just let it go".

She didn't want to let it go. She knew she couldn't let it go and be okay. But she had no idea the impact it would have on her and those around her.

Her dad was more supportive, but still asked her: "Aren't you worried you're going to come off petty by trying to send him to jail?"

But she didn't want to send him to jail. It wasn't about punishment. She just wanted the guy to know what he did was wrong, and to never do it again.


Tom* went to her school. They'd seen each other around and he'd smiled at her and she'd smiled back. She thought, "He seems nice". He messaged her on Instagram and added her on Snapchat, and then asked if she wanted to hang out over the holidays. She thought, "Well, he goes to my school, he's safe enough". She never met up with strangers she encountered online; that was how you kept yourself safe.

They hung out nearly every day for a week during the holidays, and found they got on well. They went to the mall and walked along the beach. They got dinner one night. They messaged on Snapchat, and he said he quite liked her, and she said she liked him too. But he was leaving town soon, and she didn't want to start anything serious.

They began to kiss, but every time they did, he went way further than what she wanted. One day he walked her back to her car and she got in the front seat. He tried to open her car door but she pushed him off, saying she had to go home. He got into the back seat and sat there.

"Come on, get out, I've got to go," she said.

"Come and sit with me back here," he said. "Come on, let's hang out, let's talk."

"I've got to go," she said.

But he refused to move and sat there, playing on his phone.

It was cold. She got in the back seat next to him.

Tom started kissing her, which was okay for a bit, but then she started to feel uncomfortable and made excuses to get away, trying to divert his attention to the waves and the people on the beach. He put his hand down her pants. She said no, he said, "You'll like it, come on," and he put his fingers inside her, smiling and happy about it.

He tried to take off her top. She said no, but he laughed it off. He took out his penis and tried to make her touch it. She refused, so he forced her hand.

He asked her to give him oral sex, asked if she'd ever done it before. She said she didn't want to.

He said, "Come on, it'll be fun."

She said, "I can't imagine that being fun".

He sat in the back seat and sulked, like he was angry.

She said, "Okay, sorry-bye."

After a few minutes he got up and, stroppily, walked away.

She drove home. That was just how guys were, she thought. And she still liked him.


A few days later, he asked if she wanted to meet at the beach, and they went for a walk to watch the sunset. He said, "Do you want to come to my house?" It was getting dark, and she said she was getting hungry and wanted to go home and get dinner.

He said, "It's just that one there," and pointed to a big house in front of them. He said they could have dinner and watch a movie, and he had lollies and snacks and stuff.

She thought, okay cool, a movie night, and agreed.

No-one else was home. They sat down in front of the TV and he pushed play on something he'd been watching and put an arm around her. She thought, 'Okay, just a hug', but then he started trying to kiss her. She tried to pull away, without being rude, saying, "Hey, we're watching a movie".

But he kept touching her. She kept watching and pulled away when she could. Then he rolled on top of her and pinned her down. He tried to kiss her and she pulled her head away and told him she was trying to watch the movie. He said, "Okay, cool," and went back to his chair, but a minute later he began moving closer to her again.

He tried to take her bra off, and she moved away again, scrunching herself against the side of the chair. She grabbed his hand and said, "I don't want to do that." Then he put his hand under her shirt and under her bra and felt her breasts. She wasn't completely comfortable with that, but she didn't know what to do or say, so she just let it happen.

Then he moved his hands further down and tried to take off her pants. She said, "No, I don't want to, I don't like this," but he said, "It'll be fun, it'll be fine, you'll like it." She pushed his hands off her and said, "Don't," but he kept trying.

She said, "No, stop", but he kept going, and she felt herself freezing as the reality of what was happening seeped in.

"No" was the only thing she could get out of her mouth, which was jammed against his. When she pushed against him, he pushed back against her, held her down.

He undid her pants, pulled them down and pushed his fingers inside her. She said, "No, stop it. Stop!" and tried to push him off. He said, "No, you like it," and she said, "No, stop." He started moving his head further down her body, and she said, "No, stop it," and grabbed his hair and tried to pull his head away from her, but he managed to lick her vulva a few times anyway. He became more forceful, and then he unbuttoned his own pants and moved back on top of her and pushed his penis inside her. She repeated, again, uselessly: "No" and "Stop".

He stood a little to reposition himself, to try an get a better angle, and in that moment she managed to jump up and pull up her pants, and she said, "I need to go". She grabbed her keys and her phone and left the room, but she didn't know how to get out of the house.

He followed her casually, telling her where the back door was and asking, "What's wrong?" She said, "I kept saying no, I kept telling you no. I kept telling you to stop it. You wouldn't stop it." She found the door, went outside, put her shoes on and left. She looked back and saw him turn away to go back inside.

She didn't want to go home to be bombarded by her mum's questions about what she'd been doing and if she could make dinner. She didn't have a hoodie or a jersey, and it was cold. She walked to her car, got in and wrapped herself in a blanket. She drove to her friend's house and knocked on the door, shaking. It was 7.30pm. All up, she'd been in Tom's house for about half an hour.

"Are you busy?" she asked Chris* when he answered the door.

"I'm not-are you okay?" he asked.

"I didn't want to go home and I didn't know where else to go." He gave her a hug.

"I don't want to be rude but is there any particular reason you're here?" Chris asked.

"Yes," she said, and told him she'd been at Tom's house and he'd done some not nice things to her.

"Did you tell him to stop?"

"Yes," she said.

Chris offered to go and talk to him or beat him up, but she said no - she wanted to forget what had happened. They went and got McDonald's and went to the beach and sat on the cold, damp sand. They drove past Tom's house so she could show Chris where it was - in case she changed her mind about having Tom beaten up, he joked. And then she went home.

Later, she told a shocked friend what had happened.

"That's rape," the friend said. "You need to say something."

Rape? She'd always thought that if it ever happened to her, she'd know.

"But you don't," Olivia says today. "It's not black and white. You don't know what to do. I found it very confusing to have to go from, 'Hey, this guy really likes me' to 'Hey, this guy raped me'."

In 2020, a Ministry of Justice survey found only 15 percent of sexual assault victims actually believe that what happened to them was a crime. That was the same for Olivia, even though she was a woman of her generation, soaked in social media discussions about justice and women's rights, consent and feminism, no means no and assault.

She knew about this stuff. She'd followed plenty of cases in the media, including one in Ireland where two national rugby players were acquitted of raping a 17-year-old woman. Their defence lawyer had argued a lacy thong the woman was wearing was actually a sign of consent, and the unfairness enraged her. She knew where she stood on issues like that.

But she still found it hard to absorb that her 'no' should have had weight, even with a boy she liked. That she should have been heard.


After the talk with her friend, Olivia called the police. Then she heard a rumour that Tom had done the same thing to Jess*, another young woman. Jess told Olivia she wanted to make a complaint as well, because they'd had sex but it wasn't consensual. A trial date was set, and she felt grimly determined; she was doing the right thing.

But she still felt destroyed. She hardly ate or slept, and cried constantly.

"I didn't get out of bed for weeks," she says. "My dad was calling me every morning at 8am going 'Come on Olivia, get up! The birds are chirping, the sun is shining, it's a beautiful day!'

"But I just fell into this really, really bad depressive episode. I couldn't do anything about it. I was pushing through every day to get to court. It honestly took everything out of me to get up each day. I couldn't make it outside."

The trial took two days. Tom appeared on five charges related to what had happened with Olivia and Jess, including rape and sexual assault. Olivia says she was "torn apart" by the defence lawyer, who accused both women of putting their heads together to come up with a story to 'get him'. He said the fact Olivia had taken 10 days to come forward and then later returned to police with further evidence meant they'd been plotting.

"Actually, it means that I liked him and I didn't want to see him go to prison," Olivia says. "When I called the police, I kept telling myself it's not for me, it's for the next girl, so she doesn't have to go through this. That was all."

The jury spent an afternoon and all of the next day deliberating, Olivia a waiting wreck. On the second afternoon, she got a call. The jury had found Tom not guilty on all charges.

"It just felt like everything in me just stopped," she says. "I just couldn't believe what they were saying. It absolutely tore me apart.

"In that moment it felt like, 'Oh my god. I have let everyone down. He's not even been found guilty. No one's going to believe me."

A quarter of New Zealanders experience sexual assault in their lifetime, but only 6 per cent report it to police. And of the cases that go to court, only a fraction end in a guilty verdict. Olivia's was now one of the 69 percent of rape cases in New Zealand that end with "not guilty".

Yet she has sympathy for the jury.

"It's so much pressure on them. Do you send a guy to jail or do you ruin two girls' lives?"

And, she says, most people don't feel comfortable sending someone to prison.

"They would rather have nine guilty men walking the streets than one innocent man in jail," she says.

But it also tells her that society thinks the long-lasting after-effects of sexual assault on victims aren't worth as much as a single man's freedom.

In 2020, a new University of Canterbury book by acclaimed law academic Elisabeth McDonald opened the courtroom door on how society's common myths about rape interfered with justice, the myths bleeding into the biases of judges, juries, and lawyers.

McDonald analysed transcripts and audio of 40 New Zealand adult rape trials and found the myths include victims being responsible for their assault because they were drinking; that they were 'asking for it' because of their clothes or behaviour, such as flirting or 'uninhibited dancing'; and that they'd had consensual sex before. Even the underwear a woman wears can count against her, as in the case of the Irish 17-year-old, which so incensed Olivia before it happened to her.

Society has a narrow view of what constitutes "real rape", McDonald found. Only strangers commit sexual violence, for example, and if there's no obvious signs of violence then, well, you weren't really raped.

It's familiar stuff for Olivia, who experienced much of this during her trial. Was taking the case to court worth it? Two years of her life, with the pain still continuing?

"Although it absolutely tore me apart, I'm so glad I still did it," she says. "I think I would have kicked myself for years and years and years knowing I could have stopped him."

She believes it would have helped her recover if RNZ could have used her real name in this story. She wanted people to see her face and look in her eyes and believe her, and she wanted do something positive with the trauma she's left with.

But RNZ told her sexual abuse complainants have automatic name suppression and reporting her name may risk Tom being identified and a potential defamation case.

"Great," she says. "So I get raped, he gets away with it, I can't get counselling, and now he takes away my right to tell my story."

At least she doesn't carry shame - she knows she didn't do anything wrong by liking Tom and kissing him. And she didn't do anything wrong by saying she wasn't ready for anything else, either, and she wants other young people to know that.

She wants women to understand when they've been sexually assaulted, because she says society's focus on male sexual satisfaction means women still put men's wants first, ignoring or not even understanding their own.

She wants men and boys to know you don't creep and prod and strongarm and whine and sulk and wear a woman down to get what you want - and if you do that, you have a problem and you should get help.

She wants them to understand you don't ignore someone who says they don't want you touching them there. That you back off immediately. That you keep checking in that what you're doing together is okay. That you have enough empathy and care to understand when someone is uncomfortable even if they don't say it.

Society's increasingly nuanced conversation around rape has allowed her to get at least that far in her recovery, she says-and she's grateful that her knowledge has been built by the women who've spoken out before her.

"I went to court to help other girls," she says. "Not for me; for the next person. And okay, that didn't work out. But that doesn't mean that's the end of it. That doesn't mean that's all I can do.

"It's not finished. I don't know why; I don't know what I have to do. Maybe I just need closure. Myself-I've come to peace with it; I've accepted it. But I feel like I'm not done yet."


Tom has a girlfriend now. She's seen them together on social media.

"I would pay really good money to hear what he told her as to why two girls were taking him to court on five charges of different types of sexual assault," she says.

Her own life, meanwhile, remains a struggle.

She's had to borrow money to help her live as she fights depression. She spent months trying to access ACC counselling for sexual trauma, calling two dozen counsellors in her city, but demand was so high that everyone was full. Just one had a space; a single appointment in three months' time.

She's just thankful she'd had a bout of mental illness earlier in her teens because through that she learned how to cope, how to get help, and what paths to take to feel normal again.

And although she's not better yet, she knows she will be.

*Names have been changed.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

NZ Police

Victim Support 0800 842 846

Rape Prevention Education

HELP Call 24/7 0800 623 1700

Safe to talk: A 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, support people and those with harmful sexual behaviour: 0800044334.

Male Survivors Aotearoa

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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