23 Jan 2018

Former Shortland Street actor sentenced over sex abuse

4:24 pm on 23 January 2018

The former Shortland Street star Rene Naufahu used his position of power to sexually groom young women who he then abused during one-on-one classes, a court was told today.

Rene Naufahu

Rene Naufahu Photo: Supplied

The Crown prosecutor compared the power imbalance to the MeToo campaign that has exposed countless allegations of sexual abuse, ending the careers of several Hollywood personalities.

Prosecutor Kristen Lummis said Naufahu breached the trust of six students.

"Despite it not being a traditional classroom teaching situation, the Crown says that that power imbalance is still present and it's the type of power imbalance that the MeToo campaign has highlighted in recent times."

She said Naufahu was 18 to 24 years older than his victims, who he had groomed by inviting them to take part in one-on-one acting classes.

"Pulling them out of the group classes, telling them that they were special, that they had real talent, that he could develop it, that they were going to be amazing."

Instead the 47-year-old touched them inappropriately and kissed them without warning.

"Whilst it is not physical harm - it is the emotional and the psychological harm that is significant and it is the type of grooming that has occurred here that has been so difficult for each of the victims to deal with."

Naufahu's lawyer Ron Mansfield described his client as an enthusiastic acting coach who has helped many actors.

"His enthusiasm and passion for the craft became personal and the lines were blurred between what was appropriate conduct from him as the tutor to conduct that was clearly, and acknowledged as, inappropriate."

Mr Mansfield said his client had voluntarily sought help from mental health professionals and was now working in construction.

"He still has a lot to give. He's made mistakes, he's acknowledged those mistakes. There's every indication that he has taken real and meaningful steps to rehabilitate and reform and to understand what went wrong and why and the impact it's had on the women concerned and he's committed to making sure that it doesn't happen again."

Judge Rob Ronayne said one of the victims described being groomed by Naufahu and had been left with ongoing emotional damage.

"Common themes for the victims are shame and guilt. They of course have no reason at all to feel any guilt, whatsoever. You are the guilty one - not them."

The judge said he also had an affidavit from psychologist Dr Stephanie Dillon.

"She suggests you are genuinely appalled by your behavior because you now have the label of 'sexual offender' - the very type of person you abhor. That seems to me, Mr Naufahu, a very self-centered response."

The judge started with a sentence of 2 years and 10 months, before taking time off for his early guilty plea and previous good character, before settling on a sentence of one year's home detention.

But the judge declined to give any discount for remorse.

"You publicly shamed victims by denying the offending. That was not merely by denying the charges that you faced, which was entirely your right. Your denial found expression by publicly saying the allegations were ridiculous and ludicrous. After your guilty pleas, you again went public and apologised for being too passionate and confusing boundaries and emotions, in my view, publicly minimising your offending."

In a statement after sentencing, Naufahu said no one was perfect and there was always room for growth. He said he has made mistakes and learned from them.

Naufahu told women he wanted to 'develop their talent'

The complainants were part of Naufahu's group acting class and were invited to attend private one-on-one acting lessons between 2010 and 2013.

The prosecution summary of facts said he put his hands down the pants of one complainant under the guise of acting coaching.

Other complainants said he kissed them or touched their breasts or buttocks.

Naufahu asked each woman to keep quiet about the classes because "he didn't want other students to become jealous", the summary said.

He "told the complainants that he believed they were very talented actors and he wanted to develop their talent".