Week in Review

Child sex offender in meetings with abuse survivors

Warning: This story discusses issues related to rape and sexual violence.

The Royal Commission into state abuse has allowed a convicted child sex offender into meetings with survivors of sexual abuse.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, attended three meetings with members of the survivors’ advisory group.

One survivor in the group told Newsroom she was retraumatised by the man’s presence.

The group was established earlier this year to make sure the inquiry was survivor-centred, and included people who were sexually abused as children while in state care.

The man is the partner of one of the members of the advisory group, and accompanied her, as a support person, to out-of-town meetings. Newsroom has chosen not to name the woman.

In May, soon after the group was established, the commission was told the man needed to notify police of his accommodation arrangements ahead of travel.

It is understood this disclosure requirement was due to the man being subject to the Child Sex Offender Register.

Survivor Advisory Group sponsoring commissioner Paul Gibson said it was at this time that the commission became aware the man had a criminal conviction.

But the commission did not question the disclosure requirement, or the nature of the man’s conviction. Three months later, on August 22, the man disclosed that information. 

Members of the survivor group who spoke to Newsroom said during those three months, the man was present for parts of two official survivor advisory meetings, and one unofficial, introductory meeting with the advisory panel members.

After the commission became aware of the nature of his conviction, he was advised he would not be able to be in the same vicinity as his partner when she attended subsequent meetings.

The man said he was not present at all three meetings. He told Newsroom he attended the introductory session, which he participated in, and was eating lunch in the same room as the survivor group members during the second meeting. He said he left when asked, and was not present at any of the third meeting.

The commission said he was not part of, and did not attend, the two official meetings.

“To be put alongside a paedophile without me knowing, and putting me at risk – I’m not happy about it …  To think that I was put in this situation, unaware is not acceptable.”

In 2000, the man, who has permanent statutory name suppression, pleaded guilty and was convicted of two charges: one of sexual violation by rape and the other of sexual violation by having unlawful sexual connection.

Court documents show the man pleaded guilty to the sexual abuse against a child in his care, who was aged between seven and eight and a half at the time. The judge’s sentencing notes said during this period the man raped and sexually violated the child on a number of occasions.

He was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment.

After release from prison, he was subject to an extended supervision order, which expired in May 2018. The order included specific requirements, including not entering the grounds of schools, preschools, parks, playgrounds and areas where children gather, apart from with supervision and prior written consent from a probation officer.

Gibson said because the advisory group members were not employed by the commission, the members and their partners were not vetted before being appointed.

“We know that abuse in care can have far-reaching ramifications across a person’s life which can sometimes include criminal convictions and incarceration. We didn’t want to create barriers for people to participate in the group.”

He also said the commission could not resource screening people not directly participating in the inquiry.

The commission will begin screening of advisory group members this week.

However, members of the group told Newsroom they understood the commission’s staff had already begun the vetting process without authorisation, which was how the commission came to know about the man’s sexual abuse conviction.

Advisory panel members retraumatised

Some members of the panel, who have been made aware of the man’s criminal history, said the commission had not put their safety first.

Kath Coster, a survivor advocate who is on the advisory group and is a child sexual abuse survivor, said finding out the man was a child sex offender had retraumatised her.

“It just retriggered the whole unhealthy anxiety and nightmares…

“Being on the panel, and in state care where I was violated by paedophiles, I would not expect to find one at the meetings,” she said.

“To be put alongside a paedophile without me knowing, and putting me at risk – I’m not happy about it … To think that I was put in this situation, unaware, is not acceptable.”

On one occasion, Coster had gone to see the man in his hotel bedroom (after he had been asked to leave an out-of-town meeting early) to "pacify" him when he became upset. She said she would not have put herself in that situation if she had known the man’s history.

“The story needs to come out. It has to be told. It’s just not acceptable. You can’t wipe it away as a tissue."

“If there’s one thing I’ve always done it’s protect myself - especially through adulthood - because I didn’t have a choice in care.”

Tyrone Marks, who is also a member of the group and was sexually abused while in state care, said it was “really slack” of the commission not to deal with the issue when it first became aware the man had a serious criminal conviction.

“The story needs to come out. It has to be told. It’s just not acceptable. You can’t wipe it away," he said.

Marks is also a councillor and social worker, and said some of the advisory group members were “quite taken aback” by what had happened. Some others were not aware, but would be told during this week's meeting.

He also questioned whether it was still appropriate for the man’s partner to remain on the advisory group, given what Marks referred to as a conflict of interest.

A series of 'missteps'

This is not the first issue faced by the commission and the advisory group.

In June, chairman Sir Anand Satyanand was accused of falling asleep during mock interviews with survivors. The commission denied this.

Satyanand has since resigned and will step down in November.

Inquiry “ambassador” Betty Sio is facing charges laid by the Serious Fraud Office. She has pleaded not guilty.

And former advisory group facilitator, Harry Tam, was removed from the panel following allegations of domestic violence.

“If you can’t get it right for other people who are out there advocating for other survivors, how will the survivors be affected?”

Marks said the internal workings of the inquiry was “a shambles”.

“It’s pretty much all over the place – from what I’ve seen.”

This made it hard for survivors to have confidence in the commission and its processes, he said, adding that it was not fair on those survivors, or taxpayers.

The inquiry has a budget of $78.85 million over four years.

“Although there have been a few missteps with the Survivor Advisory Group - some of which we are still ironing out – under new management, group members have started providing some valuable advice to the inquiry,” Gibson said.

Coster said the world was watching New Zealand, because this was the first advisory panel of its kind. But the panel was not being given the opportunity to perform, and survivor advocates had been put at risk.

“If you can’t get it right for other people who are out there advocating for other survivors, how will the survivors be affected?”

Where to get help:

National Rape Crisis helpline: 0800 88 33 00

Safe to Talk national helpline 0800 044 334 or www.safetotalk.nz

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