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Fears rapist's home detention sentence may stop victims seeking justice

Emma Houpt, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 17 Sep 2022, 2:28PM
There are fears a rapist's home detention sentence will put victims off seeking justice. Photo / Getty Images
There are fears a rapist's home detention sentence will put victims off seeking justice. Photo / Getty Images

Fears rapist's home detention sentence may stop victims seeking justice

Emma Houpt, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 17 Sep 2022, 2:28PM

Warning: This story discusses sexual abuse

The home detention sentence imposed on a teenager who sexually abused five girls could deter other victims from coming forward, a psychotherapist fears.

Bay of Plenty child and adolescent psychotherapist Joanne Bruce said one of her young female clients recently told her she did not want to report her sexual abuse because she felt he would not "get the punishment he deserved".

But prominent victim advocate Louise Nicholas encouraged victims to seek justice as it could be healing and help them to regain power by speaking out.

The comments came after Jayden Desmond Meyer, now 18, was sentenced to nine months' home detention on 10 charges including four of rape, four of sexual violation, and two of doing an indecent act. Meyer, then aged 16, raped four girls and sexually violated one. All victims were aged 15 at the time.

The sentence prompted public protests after it was revealed by Open Justice on September 6.

The prosecutor in the case, Anna Pollett, has defended the sentence, explaining that a "rehabilitative approach is to protect the community in the long term from reoffending".

Bruce said a number of her teenage female clients had told her they felt the sentence "undermined their own experience" of sexual abuse.

She said it impacted all of them in a "personal way" and brought about feelings of "shock and surprise".

"The clients I see were aware of this case, talking about it and feeling concerned that sexual abuse isn't recognised really as having a big impact on someone's life," she said.

"It certainly has impacted on their feelings about their own experience."

Child and adolescent psychotherapist Joanne Bruce. Photo / Supplied

Child and adolescent psychotherapist Joanne Bruce. Photo / Supplied

One client told Bruce the sentence put her off wanting to report the sexual abuse she experienced.

"She said she didn't feel like she would ever want to. She didn't feel that [he] would get the punishment he deserved."

In her opinion, the sentence also seemed to make some clients start questioning whether their own experiences were a "big deal".

"They start to have doubts about well maybe it wasn't a big deal or was it my fault?

"There are those questions about their experience which are understandable mistakes of meaning which happen when people get traumatised by sexual assault."

Client services manager at Bay of Plenty-based Tautoko Mai Sexual Harm Support Julie Sach said, speaking generally, sentences perceived to be light could be "problematic" for sexual abuse victims.

"It's about minimising what happened to them and saying it's not really that bad. That's the message victims get when sentences appear light," she said.

Victims may second guess what happened to them.

"There is a huge impact on people of this sort of crime - and yet if it is not reflected in the sentencing then it can feel like clearly society doesn't feel like what happened to me was that bad. A negating of their experience.

In her view: "It does put people off from coming forward because they wonder what the point is - and feel like they have been let down."

She said this was of concern because sexual violence crimes were "quite a low reported crime".

Findings from the most recent New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey found that only 8 per cent of sexual assaults were reported to police.

Sach said a number of individuals with "increased anxiety" had sought support from the service over the past week.

Tautoko Mai client services manager Julie Sach. Photo / Supplied

Tautoko Mai client services manager Julie Sach. Photo / Supplied

Many of these were previous clients who returned after media coverage about Meyer's case.

Some were "questioning themselves" and reflecting on what the case meant for their own experience of sexual assault, she said.

Sach said while discussions and media coverage about sexual violence crimes could be triggering for some, it was also "really important" they were in the public arena.

"They send signals to Parliament about what public expectations are around sentencing for crimes like that and what are the penalties for such crimes.

"It also raises awareness for people that this is a crime."

She said victims could access Tautoko Mai services whether or not they intended to take matters through the criminal justice system.

It also provided ongoing court support service, she said.

Victims advocate Louise Nicholas said she was saddened to hear Meyer's sentence had deterred someone from reporting their experience to authorities.

Nicholas battled to take a group of police officers to court for allegedly raping her when she was a teenager. They were found not guilty but it was later revealed two were already serving sentences for gang rape.

The Rotorua woman became an advocate for survivors.

Nicholas told the Bay of Plenty Times there was "an element of healing" for survivors who shared their experiences with police and it held alleged offenders to account.

"We have to encourage anybody who has been affected by sexual violence to come forward and tell their story to authorities.

"The reason I say that is because at least that story is now out there, and if they want to take it any further through the criminal justice system is there for that to happen."

She acknowledged while it was difficult for those who did not get "their justice", they had regained control and power by speaking out.

"Don't be afraid to come forward. We are all here to support you to do that."

It made me feel like the world is not fair

A teenager who was a victim of sexual abuse when she was younger, said she was "mortified" when she heard about Meyer's sentence.

The teenager told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend she experienced sexual abuse and reported it to authorities years later. Her abuser went to jail, she said.

"I think [Meyer's sentence] was pretty embarrassing - and it might have opened up something in me," she said.

"I felt like I could relate to what happened. Honestly, the nine months in the headlines. All I kept on thinking was 'that it's not fair'.

In her view: "There is no justice. Nine months home detention compared to lifelong trauma is hardly fair."

She said it forced her to reflect on her own experience of abuse and how she did not feel her case "was taken seriously either".

"It took a long time for me to talk about things that happened to me. I am sure that when I read the report - I could hear all the hurt. I could just imagine the pain and suffering."

She felt there should have been "more consequences" for Meyer and wanted to see more support in place for the girls involved.

"I felt disgusted we have boys that are going round doing this to girls," she said.

"All I keep thinking is that it's not fair these girls are hurting a lot and he is at home."

She said her experience of abuse had negatively impacted her teenage years, developing a "fear of men", relationships and getting pregnant.


NZ Police
Victim Support 0800 842 846
Tautoko Mai Sexual Harm Support 0800 227 233
Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00
Rape Prevention Education
Empowerment Trust
HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 - 0
Safe to talk: a 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, support people and those with harmful sexual behaviour: 0800044334.
Mosaic - Tiaki Tangata Peer support for males who have experienced trauma and sexual abuse: 0800 94 22 94
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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