Warning: This story deals with sexual abuse and may be upsetting
A victim devastated from being indecently assaulted says the pain of not being heard when she tried to tell someone, and then learning the offender went on to assault two more young girls, is indescribable.
But a High Court decision to uphold an earlier district court decision to convict former St John ambulance officer Roger Percival Haack on historic indecent assault charges has now shifted the burden, the victim told NZME.
“It’s now no longer my weight to carry - it’s his, which it should have been all along,” said the woman, who was aged 11 at the time of the offending in 1996.
Haack was convicted in the Blenheim District Court last October for his offending against three victims on three occasions on dates that spanned 24 years. The offending included that he touched them inappropriately, commented on their bodies, exposed himself to one victim, and tried to kiss another.
He was sentenced to five months community detention, 12 months of intensive supervision and was registered as a child sex offender.
In a decision released this week, the High Court allowed his appeal against the decision to register him as a child sex offender and an order was made directing that his name be removed from the register. However, it dismissed Haack’s appeal against the district court’s refusal to grant a discharge without conviction.
“I’m so happy. It’s been so long,” the first victim said.
“This is the closure that I needed when this abuse first happened to me as a child.”
She said the sexual abuse had defined her life, which had been marked by her trying to battle the after-effects of abuse.
“To completely articulate the impact Roger’s offending has had on my life, is very difficult.”
She grew up not having any adults in her life that she could trust.
“I was forced to keep a really big dirty secret and was offered no help or assistance to navigate through this.
“My self-confidence was robbed and I always thought it was my fault.”
Former ambulance officer Roger Haack was convicted and sentenced in the Blenheim District Court last October on historic indecent assault charges. The High Court has now dismissed his appeal against conviction and sentence. Photo / Tracy Neal
Several weeks before the incident that led to the charge concerning the first victim, Haack had exposed himself in front of her but said he didn’t know why.
At sentencing, Judge Arthur Tompkins denied Haack’s statement that there was “no sexual intent in the offending”, given the nature of the offending, its repetitive occurrence, and the circumstances in which the offending arose.
He said Haack knew what he was doing, and that it was indecent, so therefore there was sexual intent in the offending, Judge Tompkins said.
The second charge related to an incident in 2008 against a person aged under 16 and the third was in 2020, also a young person aged under 12.
Another of the victims said in her victim impact statement that the offender, whom she described as a “monster”, had taken away her right to be a 12-year-old girl.
“What you did to me stole my freedom and made me grow up overnight.
“I hate you for putting me in this position and wish I had a superpower that meant I could take a massively big eraser and rub you and what you did to me out of my head and life forever.”
A parent of one of the victims said his words couldn’t express the depth of torment they had all suffered.
He said the damage done was not final.
“It is ongoing and I am not too sure as to whether someday it will be extinguished altogether.”
Haack initially denied the charges laid in April 2021, but just before trial he pleaded guilty to an amended charge list and sought a discharge without conviction.
The first victim said his initial not guilty pleas had sent her and others on “an almost two-year hellish journey of being dragged through the court system and again being controlled by Haack”.
After his switch to guilty pleas and a request for discharge without conviction, Haack argued that a conviction would be “a blow to his self-esteem and confidence” and a black mark on a long service career as a St John Ambulance officer.
It would also inhibit his ability to travel to Australia, to visit his children and grandchildren from a previous marriage.
In the district court, Judge Arthur Tompkins considered that the consequences of conviction were “not out of all proportion” to the seriousness of the offending.
At the appeal hearing in Wellington before Justice Francis Cooke, Haack, aged 70, argued that a conviction would harm his chances of employment.
Justice Cooke said there was no specific additional prejudice that arose for the appellant, such as lost employment.
He accepted elements of Haack’s submissions over whether the district court had erred in its decision, and he also accepted that the offending was less serious than other child sexual offending, but that did not mean it was not serious.
“That is because of the impact on the young victims which the judge [Tompkins] described in his decision.”
Justice Cooke accepted there were some mitigating factors, including that Haack had attended counselling and had made reparation payments.
“But the offending is still moderately serious, and involved a significant impact on the victims,” he said.
It was his view that the consequences of a conviction were the normal consequences of offending of this kind.
Judge Tompkins said in his decision last October that the common theme that emerged was the devastating effect the offending had on the victims.
It included a sense of abandonment and isolation, especially when the abuse was disclosed, and the person entrusted with the information sided with the defendant and then downplayed, denied or reacted aggressively to each of the victims who had “had the courage to disclose what had occurred”, he said.
Crown prosecutor Mark O’Donoghue said at sentencing that the “insidious effects of indecent assaults” such as these, in circumstances where disclosures were not treated appropriately and seriously, could be long-lasting and persistently detrimental for the victims.
The first victim told NZME that not being believed and having reported the abuse to a person who did not act upon it was life-altering, especially when she learned he had offended again later.
“Devastated doesn’t even begin to explain how I felt,” she said of the guilt she felt that had at times had been overwhelming.
“I have had to do a lot of agonisingly painful reflecting on how this should have been stopped when I was first abused.”
She said it was by the grace of God she had managed to move on enough to meet a man she eventually married and had a family of her own.
“This has not been easy, and it’s only through continued access to counselling and the support of my husband that I have been able to push through and not let the abuse that happened to me dictate how the course of my life would end up.”
Where to get help:
If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone, contact Safe to Talk confidentially, any time 24/7:
• Call 0800 044 334
• Text 4334
• Email [email protected]
• For more info or to web chat visit safetotalk.nz
Alternatively contact your local police station - click here for a list.
If you have been sexually assaulted, remember it's not your fault.
Tracy Neal is a Nelson-based Open Justice reporter at NZME. She was previously RNZ’s regional reporter in Nelson-Marlborough and has covered general news, including court and local government for the Nelson Mail.
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