24 Apr 2024

Supreme Court decision to name sex offender a 'massive victory', survivors say

7:31 pm on 24 April 2024
Supreme Court in Wellington

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

A Supreme Court decision to name a man who raped and sexually assaulted six young women is a massive victory, survivors say.

But for now they must wait just a little longer.

His name cannot be published until 14 June "for reasons which will be provided at a later date", the court said.

The man took the fight to keep his name secret to the country's highest court after losing bids in the District Court, High Court, and Court of Appeal over two years.

The Supreme Court ruling found open justice principles prevailed over the argument that the man's name should be permanently suppressed because of his age.

Decision a 'massive victory' - survivor

The decision was relieving and bittersweet, after an arduous, all-consuming legal battle, some of the young women assaulted by the man said.

Finding out the country's highest court had "sided" with them was overwhelming, Mia Edmonds said.

"When I got the call that the appeal had been declined, I just burst into tears and wept," she said.

"At every turn it's felt like we've been kind of shut down, it's felt like we were being ignored, or our wellbeing wasn't being prioritised, and his was."

Edmonds, Rosie Veldkamp and Ellie Oram all waived their right to name suppression - an "incredibly vulnerable and difficult" decision that was made purely for the benefit of others, Edmonds said.

"All we really can do is hope that eventually, his name will come out, and anyone who is able to see that will feel more empowered to speak up if they've been through something like this."

The fact the man's name has been kept secret for so long was insulting, Veldkamp said.

"My pain and anxiety will not ease until this decision is properly seen through and for all women to know who he is and what he has done so they can keep themselves safe," she said.

"It has been an injustice to allow females to cross his path without knowing who he is and the disgusting crimes he has committed with no remorse again and again."

It was an indescribable feeling to have finally "won this fight", Oram said.

"We have been arguing for this moment to protect our community."

Court process caused an 'inhumane amount of suffering' - survivor

While the decision was a "big win" overall, it was important to shed light on what the process had been like, Edmonds said.

In speaking out about the case they had been putting on a brave face, but behind that they were hurting, she said.

"We had to endure an inhumane amount of suffering," Edmonds said.

"It feels like we're running a marathon but the finish line keeps being moved."

The women were trying to heal and move on, but time and again were dragged back to court with "insanely long" waits between proceedings.

"When you're finally starting to feel that sense of relief, and finally thinking it's almost over, there's another appeal, or there's another hearing, or there's another decision that needs to be made, or a temporary injunction," Edmonds said.

And there was insufficient support for victims within the justice system, she said.

"We only have [independent victim advocate] Ruth Money, but there's only one Ruth, so any other victims in New Zealand, if they don't have Ruth, they're at a serious disadvantage and they don't have anyone to speak up for them."

Advocacy and support should be built into the justice system, she said.

The fight for name suppression

The now 21-year-old man was sentenced to 12 months' home detention in 2022 after pleading guilty to a total of 10 charges - including rape, sexual violation, indecent assault, and sexual conduct with a person under 16.

While some of his charges were filed in the youth court (where automatic name suppression applies), the case was transferred to the District Court because of his age at the time of the later offences, and because of their serious nature.

The man asked for permanent name suppression, claiming publishing his name would cause him extreme hardship and endanger his safety.

His application was declined, as was a later appeal to the High Court. The Court of Appeal then declined him leave to appeal a second time, and while the Supreme Court granted him leave to appeal the High Court's decision, it had not found in his favour.

In the Supreme Court's decision, it noted New Zealand had committed to international conventions around rehabilitating and reintegrating young offenders.

However, it said the Criminal Procedure Act (which outlines the rules for name suppression) highlighted the importance of open justice, and there would need to be a specific provision in the law if youth justice principles were to be given more weight.

The man's lawyers argued his youth and late autism diagnosis meant he would face hardship if he were named. It would pose a risk to his mental health, employment and social prospects, and the potential for vigilantism, they said.

His family had called police after "condoms full of dog excrement were thrown at the family home, and another occasion in which a rock was thrown against the house", the decision said.

But the threshold of extreme hardship was not reached, the court found.

Because the nature of his offending was serious, over an extended period of time and involved a number of victims, open justice principles prevailed and there was clearly public interest in his identification, it said.

"There may be other victims who might come forward if [he] is named. The victims are also concerned about the potential there will be other complainants in the future, absent any ability to warn young women about [his] previous offending."

A test case for youth justice vs open justice principles

Independent victims' advocate Ruth Money said the decision served as an example of how similar cases in the future could be treated.

In this case, it was decided that just because the offender was young, did not mean he could challenge open justice principles, she said.

"Now that we've had this decision, we can talk to this in the future," she said.

"Hopefully it means that survivors won't have to wait until an offender takes them to a High Court, a Court of Appeal and then the Supreme Court to get a decision, because people can point to this decision."

Three years of offending

The man offended against his first victim in 2017, when both were 14-years-old. He held her down and violated her, only stopping when another boy pulled him away. He then chased and threatened the other boy.

The next year he climbed on top of a second victim as she lay drunk on a bed and groped her. The same year, he offended against another 15-year-old twice - once assaulting her in a park and later raping her while she was unconscious after drinking.

In 2019, the man had sex with a girl who was only 13 at the time. In 2020, when he was 17, he had consensual sex with a girl the same age at an "end of a lockdown party" - but when she asked him to stop he ignored her, and went on to perform acts that caused her considerable pain.

That same night, he lay on a bed with another 17-year-old while she was drunk before climbing on top of her and restraining her when she tried to move.

He was interrupted by the earlier victim entering the room.

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