Victim rejects $200 payment from man who escaped conviction for indecent assault
A young man who harassed a Courtenay Place student house in Wellington and assaulted it from behind to get ‘a treat’ has escaped with a $200 fine because a judge ruled a conviction could harm his employment prospects.
The attacker was also granted name removal by Judge Andrew Nicholls, who said it would cause the man “extreme hardship” and that the consequences of his offending, combined with the anxiety of the man, had left him in a “very dark and fragile place”.
The victim, a 20-year-old student, refuses payment for emotional harm, saying the decision to let him go is “bleak” and shows how assaults on women are minimized.
“He’s just one of many guys who were brought up in a society that thinks it’s okay to do this. That’s why I didn’t go to the police in the first place, because I I was like, ‘What’s a doomed guy going to do?’ “says Claire (not her real name.)
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“And then he was not sentenced at all. It just makes me angry.
Critics say the judge’s decision is “unconvincing”, while sexual violence prevention advocates question the handling of sexual violence cases in the courts.
“As a legal scholar, it shows premeditation and commitment to sexual offences. As a woman, this is the kind of sexual predator that terrifies me,” says Debra Wilson, associate professor at the University of Canterbury Law School.
“It wasn’t a moment of losing control – he had plenty of time to walk away and he chose not to.”
It comes after High Court Judge Sally Fitzgerald ruled this week that the nine-month house arrest sentence handed down to multiple rapist Jayden Meyer was ‘grossly inadequate’, and after a high-profile Wellington man escaped a conviction for a sex act at a neighbor’s house earlier this month.
A recent survey of Wellington residents found that more than half felt unsafe in the city at night.
“I felt his presence stalking me”
Claire was alone on Majoribanks Street around 10.30pm in October 2021 when her skin started to tingle.
“I felt his presence stalking me, he was very close and he was following me. I checked the car windows in the reflection, and he was right against me, and that’s when I knew ‘OK , this guy definitely has intentions’ but I wasn’t sure how far he’d be willing to go,” she said. said.
“Then when I went to turn down my street he grabbed my ass and tried to pull me inside.”
Claire nudged him, and he ran away, and she chased him, she said. “The adrenaline just took over…I was definitely in shock, scared and very angry.
“I had been through similar things in bars and everything that came out of it, the action, made me feel so outside of my own body, just an object. At that time, he had no consideration for me as a human being.
It was scary, it had shaken her confidence and evoked previous trauma, she said. She has trouble sleeping, goes to counseling sessions and is always afraid to go into town without a man present.
It was every woman’s worst fear, Claire says. “I was alone in the street, there was no one I could really go to. I started yelling at him but no one came out.
“Until it happens to you, it feels like something people regurgitate to protect you, but it proved to me that no, there’s a reason to be super careful.”
“No justice, no peace” was one of many chants among the hundreds of protesters at Mt Maunganui following the sentencing of Jayden Meyer.
She didn’t go to the police at first, but changed her mind at the request of her doctor. “To be honest, I didn’t think the police would really care, so it was good to know they did.”
Claire wanted to be named for this article, but as a victim of such a crime, her name is automatically removed. After her year-long ordeal, she can’t face going through the system again to try to get him up, she said. “I prefer to finish with the courts.”
The abuser wrote Claire a letter of apology which she found unconvincing and she did not want to be part of a restorative justice process, she said. “The letter was all bullshit, I didn’t buy a single word he said.”
It was “insulting” that the courts ordered him to pay her $200, Claire said. “I’m not taking his money, that would show that I accept that he did this, and I don’t accept that.
“What pissed me off the most wasn’t really the guy in particular because I consider him a loser, he doesn’t scare me, but it’s the culture he represents.”
“It is not fair”
Police identified the man through CCTV footage, surveillance and his distinctive clothing. He said the police were walking home from the supermarket and decided to follow Claire through dark streets for ten minutes and then rush on her to “medicate”.
Because he was not convicted, the DNA sample taken in connection with his arrest was destroyed. Police asked the Deputy Solicitor General to agree to appeal the release, but that was denied earlier this month.
Indecent assault carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.
At sentencing in Wellington District Court, Judge Nicholls acknowledged the impact of the offense on Claire. “It can have lasting effects on how the victim lives their life, and it contributes to the level of anxiety that women, unjustly, have to live with.”
He called the offense “moderate”, saying it was deliberate and not opportunistic. Although the accused suffered from an anxiety disorder, there was no causal link.
However, his anxiety meant he was already withdrawn from society and a conviction would make it harder for him to get a job and have a ‘bigger than usual impact’ on his life.
“I do not underestimate the seriousness of what you have done…however, given your unique circumstances and the mental health issues you face and work on, I accept that a conviction may have lifelong consequences for your employment and your integration into society.”
Wilson said employment issues were a natural consequence of the conviction and the man was a beneficiary with no evidence of a job offer or planned training.
“The judge doesn’t really explain how he came to the conclusion that a conviction would be disproportionate to the nature of the offence, other than the potential effects on aspirational employment, which I find unconvincing.”
Auckland Sexual Abuse HELP Foundation executive director Kathryn McPhillips said the system was skewed in favor of offenders. “It’s about the rights of the accused and the impact on his life. We also need to start counting the casualty, not just in this case, but in all cases.
It wasn’t justice, she said. “We understand the motivation to keep young people out of jail, but it feels like the judges are moving forward without all of the reform in place that would focus on treatment and reparations and restore the mana of those involved.
“You don’t restore your mana with a half-hearted discharge, you restore it by understanding what you’ve done and correcting it. We need to fix the system to make sure these remedies are available.
District Court Chief Judge Heemi Taumaunu said no direction had been given to impose lighter sentences.
Parliament decides on sentencing principles and the judiciary is an independent branch of government. “Judges consider a number of factors before sentencing an offender, including their personal circumstances.”