WARNING: This story details sexual harm and may be upsetting.
A brave young woman who was groomed into a sexual relationship by her private school teacher when she was only 16 has spoken out about why she decided to waive her name suppression and fight for her own justice.
Usually, the names of students in Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal cases are suppressed, especially one described as “at the most serious end of serious misconduct cases that come before the Tribunal,” in its final decision.
But in this case, 21-year-old Helena Dray asked the tribunal to waive her name suppression so she could shed light on the teacher that targeted her while she was his student in 2018.
“It took years for me to come forward due to the stigma and victim blaming that commonly surrounds these cases,” Dray said in a statement provided to the Herald.
“He was aware of my vulnerability at the time. I believe his actions towards me were shameful and arrogant, and there should be no place for that in Aotearoa.”
Under the guise that he wanted to help her with mental health issues that she was dealing with, over the course of a year Taurapa groomed Dray into a sexual relationship with him, beginning when she was only 15 years old.
The inappropriate teacher-student relationship at Christchurch private girls’ school Rangi Ruru lasted a year and involved the sharing of nude images and sex acts in a car.
Up until the tribunal’s decision was released on Monday, Taurapa had publicly enjoyed a successful career well within the media eye, including a podcast and translator role with Stuff, appearing in several news stories including one in Capital Mag where he claims to have worked for the government, the New Zealand Translation Center, 2020 General Election and Air New Zealand.
“It was difficult seeing Taurapa continue his career, especially in the media, although I held little doubt he would be let go from certain positions once this case was made public,” Dray said.
Dray said it had taken time to realise the effect the relationship had on her. She now has difficulty engaging with male authority figures and struggled to continue her te reo studies.
“I have been in therapy for years now due to these events and only recently came to the understanding that I hold no blame for what happened to me,” Dray said.
When Taurapa’s actions hit the headlines on Monday, Dray said it was the first time the school had contacted her personally about the ordeal.
“I felt a distinct lack of concern for my well-being from the school,” Dray said.
When the tribunal decision was released, Taurapa was finally held accountable for his actions against Dray.
“I chose to waive name suppression as I have a name and I am a person. I fully respect that other victims have reasons for wanting to remain anonymous, and I want to emphasise that these reasons are completely valid and understandable, especially due to the stigma that commonly surrounds situations like this.
“For me personally, to be anonymous means to contribute to the narrative that victims’ actions are in some way shameful or contributory to their abuse. This is untrue, and harmful to victims, past, present, and future.
“If there is no name on the other end of these cases, it makes it harder to comprehend the impact these events have and allows perpetrators a level of detachment from the effects of their actions, giving them a continued unjust power over victims,” Dray said.
While Dray herself did not seek name suppression, Taurapa and Rangi Ruru and fellow private school Christ’s College both did. Taurapa was a house tutor residing in a boarding house at Christ’s College, which has a strong relationship with Rangi Ruru.
“I can’t help but think that if Rangi Ruru was granted name suppression, they would not have contacted me at all. I feel as though they only contacted me due to anticipated media attention, rather than a genuine concern for my well-being,” Dray said.
“I believe Rangi Ruru carried out the disciplinary process legally required of them, and nothing more.”
Taurapa, formerly known as Connor Taurapa Matthews, had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student at a private girls' school while he was a teacher. Photo / Supplied
A spokesperson for Rangi Ruru told the Herald earlier that both it and Christ’s College made arguments in favour of suppression at a time before Dray asked the tribunal to waive her right to name suppression.
“Its key concern was that identifying the school would identify its student, and cause concern for other students at that school.”
Those arguments fell away. The school’s lawyer also said given the schools are both private, they risked “disproportionate media coverage”.
The tribunal declined to grant suppression to both schools.
Taurapa, a wedding celebrant, when seeking name suppression also argued because he is Māori he would suffer “tabloid-style” coverage due to racial bias.
The tribunal said the risk was not real or appreciable and Taurapa was denied suppression.
“Although his actions were unacceptable and extremely damaging, they have nothing to do with his race or culture.
“I think it is disgraceful how Taurapa has suggested his actions were in line with Te Aho Matua, as the hauora of tamariki is a very real and valuable part of Te Ao Māori, and this suggestion grossly exploits that fact,” Dray said
‘The most serious conduct that comes before us’
The tribunal considered Dray’s evidence, which included copies of many social media conversations, to be sound.
”Ms Dray has been reasonable and measured in her affidavit, where there could easily have been opportunity to get carried away.”
Taurapa himself chose not to engage in the tribunal process, other than filing a statement denying a romantic relationship occurred.
”We do not accept Taurapa’s denials,” the tribunal ruled. “The entire account of Ms Dray is found proven.
“This type of conduct strikes at the heart of the teacher-student relationship. It is at the most serious end of serious misconduct cases that come before the Tribunal.”
When Taurapa’s misconduct was made public on Monday, his registration as a teacher was also cancelled.
“I am very happy with the Tribunal’s decision to cancel Taurapa’s teaching licence, I feel this is definitely necessary,” Dray said.
In 2018, Taurapa, was employed as a te reo Māori teacher at Rangi Ruru when he met Dray.
Dray was a year 12 student and Taurapa would regularly communicate with her via social media as part of a te reo study group chat, but Taurapa then began to message Dray directly.
That messaging, which became romantic and sexual, occurred nearly daily for close to a year. When Dray turned 16 in April 2018, Taurapa gifted her a writing journal containing a poem entitled “Words of love”.
Eventually, he would meet Dray in dressing rooms, kissing and groping her. Dray said one room, in particular, was chosen due to its lack of security cameras.
Taurapa would also offer to drop Dray home after rehearsing, holding her hand in the car and telling her to duck down if driving around town. He’d say goodbye with a kiss. Taurapa would often tell her to make sure she deleted her messages with him from her phone and for her to ‘not leave a trace’.
Taurapa’s treatment of Dray left her feeling conflicted, used and emotionally drained, she told the tribunal.
Dray wasn’t Taurapa’s only target. He was also engaged in “inappropriate messaging”, with a girl referred to as Ms Y throughout the decision.
Ms Y was 16 when he began messaging her, and it continued when she turned 17. Ms Y, who attended another high school, met him around late September to early October 2018 at Christ’s College.
The details are eerily similar to what Gray experienced. The pair exchanged messages via text and Snapchat, Taurapa purchased gifts for the young girl and invited her to activities outside of school and he would eventually ask for pictures of her in a bikini.
The report says that during the period the pair messaged, Taurapa would “continuously” request Ms Y add him to her private accounts on other social media platforms. She declined. She also declined to go on any dates with him.
On March 19, a meeting was held with Taurapa at Rangi Ruru. During the meeting he denied ever meeting Dray outside of the school but said he had dropped her off following a rehearsal for a show as he did not want her to walk home in the dark.
On April 8, 2019 he resigned from Rangi Ruru effective immediately. He said his relationship with the school had become “untenable”.
Concerns were eventually also passed on to police, who on September 11 2019 notified the Ministry of Education (MoE) about his conduct in respect of Dray and Ms Y. The MoE referred the matter to the teacher’s council.
Taurapa said in his initial response to the mandatory report that he denied the allegations in relation to Dray, and said he had done nothing wrong.
Taurapa later secured teaching jobs at two other Christchurch schools, Hornby High School and Te Whānau Tahi.
In a Capital Mag article from 2021, which has now been removed online, Taurapa describes himself as previously “finding my feet, going between schools,” with no mention of his misconduct.
“I had no idea what my career path would be, so I just went into teaching. I became qualified and began teaching Te Reo Māori in 2018. I got a job at a mainstream school but it did not really sit right with me. It seemed to me that the school’s passion for Māori was a bit of a facade, and quite superficial.
“The programme was really in its infancy and I just didn’t have the support I needed in order to really prosper there,”
Rangi Ruru Board of Governors Chair Nicki Carter said in a statement to the Herald the school was made aware of the allegations of “serious misconduct” in March 2019.
“As soon as the school was made aware of the allegations the teacher was stood down, an internal investigation was initiated, and the matter was referred to the Teaching Council. The teacher resigned from their position in April 2019, whilst the school’s investigation was being undertaken.
“We commend the bravery of those who provided evidence in the case.”
NZME has approached Taurapa for comment.
Jaime Lyth is an Auckland-based reporter who covers crime. She joined the Herald in 2021 and has previously reported for The Northern Advocate.
Where to get help:
If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
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