'I wouldn't want the neighbours to find out'

Last updated 05:00 12/01/2014

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In the final of our 1 in 100 series, Kirsty Johnston talks to a rapist.

The first girl Henry* raped was 15 years old. She was his niece.

The second girl was his daughter. She was 9.

"I know now that it was wrong," he says. "But back then, I just thought I was clever enough to get away with it. I was Mr Smart."

Henry lives in a town that could be yours. Now aged 63, he has been in prison and in therapy and is considered safe enough to live in the community. The police know his history. The neighbours do not.

"It has to be a secret or I will get kicked out," he says. His voice is low. He speaks hesitantly, but honestly. Sometimes you have to ask your questions twice.

"I wouldn't want the neighbours to find out. I think they would beat the hell out of me."

It has been three years since Henry last discussed what he did to his victims. Some of the details are blurry after so long, but thinking about it still makes him feel the same.

"I find it horrible. So I know how those neighbours would feel. When I read about other offenders in the newspaper I feel sick now because that was me."

Henry first went to court for the sexual assault of his niece. He was in his 20s, and he says "things were more lenient then". He pleaded guilty, and was discharged.

Over the next 20 years, it didn't happen again. He played sport, had a job, and a family. "Life was good." When Henry's daughter was 9, however, he began to molest her. It continued until she was 15, when she told her mother, who reported it to the police.

Henry denied his offending throughout the court case, thinking he'd get off. His daughter gave evidence against him, however, and he was jailed for 11 years. He served seven, and was required to complete therapy upon release.

Even after so much time, it took almost a year in therapy for Henry to properly admit to what he had done and to talk about why.

His therapist says Henry is "medium-functioning" - meaning his intelligence is lower than that of many people.

However, that didn't affect his rehabilitation - often the highest-functioning are harder to treat because they are able to lie more easily - he just struggled to come to terms with what he'd done.

That included recognising potential victims he may have assaulted in social situations as a young person, which his therapists believe probably happened but cannot prove.

Henry says he still doesn't truly know what motivated him to rape. "I was an idiot. Partly - and it is hard for me to say this - it was the easy access," he says.

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"I wasn't thinking with my heart, I was thinking with the thing between my legs."

Neither Henry's wife nor daughter talk to him, although his niece was involved in his treatment. Some of his family support him, which Henry is grateful for and says it helps him through each day.

He also relies on a safety plan, which he sticks to rigorously. Although Henry isn't a paedophile - more of what experts call a "pubescent" offender - it includes rules like crossing the road around children and avoiding times when young people will be at shops.

He says he will never re-offend.

"I will keep to that plan no matter what. I know I don't need to now but I will. Because I did the offending and here I am, knocking about as free as a bird," he says.

"My daughter, she's been sentenced for life."

*Names changed. Please note that the image used on the homepage is not of the interviewee. 

ROAD TO BETTER JUSTICE NOT EASY

Today marks the final part of our 1 in 100 campaign, fighting for better justice for rape victims.

We spent six weeks investigating every corner of the sexual violence system, asking experts what was broken and how it could be fixed.

Much like the path forward for survivors of rape - and the road to rehabilitation for perpetrators - the way ahead was not deemed to be easy. It will be time consuming, controversial and costly.

As always, the main hurdle will be getting more victims to come forward. We spoke to dozens of rape survivors and each one told a more harrowing story than the last about their experience in bringing their attacker to justice.

But there is hope. Academics, politicians and experts in their fields can see a way ahead - and are willing to work to make it happen to ensure that more women find redress through the courts or an alternative system.

Successive reports have already outlined plans. Some only need to be actioned - such as the programme to treat rapists in the community designed by Corrections but never implemented. Others need to be updated or completed.

Money was also an issue, but there are moves to address the haphazard sexual violence funding structure through a select committee inquiry.

Addressing New Zealand's pervasive rape culture will be more challenging. Numerous experts suggested the only way to stop rape is to educate the public about what "consent" really means.

The government certainly has the ability and the money to fund such an awareness campaign.

Whether the community is mature enough to discuss sex in an adult way is another matter.

Final thoughts from those involved in 1 in 100:

Green MP Jan Logie:

"Parliament, advocates, academics, professionals and survivors have made a good enough case for change. We have had decades of research and taskforces and now massive public outcry and concerted media attention on the problems. It really is just the political will that seems to be standing in our way."

Convenor of "I am Someone" website, Meg Bates:

"I would like a Campaign for Consent to be initiated by the Government. We can all be part of the solution by modelling healthy attitudes towards consent and by putting the focus back on rapists being the cause of rape, not anything else."

HELP chief executive Kathryn McPhillips:

"Many people thought that we had solved this issue in the 1980s when services were established and it was made illegal for a husband to rape a wife. We haven't. As a society we continue to hang on to ancient ideas about women and sex and allow these to override the rights of women and children to live safely in our homes and communities."

Labour MP Carol Beaumont:

"The personal, social and economic costs of sexual offending are huge. Reducing it must be a priority. Unfortunately the government has failed to respond to the issue appropriately. Labour is working on a comprehensive and long term package aimed at making NZ a world leader in reducing sexual offending."

Rape Prevention Education's Kim McGregor:

"No community in New Zealand is free of sexual violence. It affects approximately one in three to five females and one in six to 10 males. Sexual violence is a preventable social problem - yet it has been much neglected by successive governments."

Lawyer Phil Hamlin:

"We can actually improve the system. We can try to eliminate the delays and ameliorate the bad parts of cross examination to make it easier for the victim but still keep it fair. But there are also alternatives we can implement beyond the current justice system. And we need to do that too."

Anonymous rape victim:

"It doesn't matter how many people a woman has slept with or how she is dressed. ‘No' still means ‘no' and being incapable of saying the word does not imply consent."

WE MUST ALL WORK TO FIND A NEW WAY FORWARD

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett writes on her response to our 1 in 100 campaign:

"The stories from rape and sexual assault survivors are harrowing.

It's hard to comprehend the damage caused by sexual attacks but we know the road to recovery can be a long and difficult one. New Zealand has a number of good community organisations providing essential services to both victims and perpetrators. This work is vital, it is difficult and it is often very complex.

The types of service, intervention and support; who provides it and who pays for it, makes for a diverse picture.

My self-appointed role has been to step in and follow the various strands of funding and contracting to try to work out how we can better resource the sector in a way that is sustainable and fair.

I've had to bring together several different government departments all providing separate contracts and pieces of funding, but I've had great co-operation on this from other ministers committed to addressing funding issues.

We've been working with organisations on this already; for example $1.3 million has been committed to the Auckland Sexual Abuse Help Foundation (HELP) with a three-year contract. It's a significant increase in funding, with a long-term contract providing more certainty.

Having a lead minister is a new development and I'm firmly committed to finding solutions. I fully support the select committee inquiry into this issue and I do believe we can do better.

My goal is to find a way to co-ordinate cross-government support for the organisations that provide essential services to those needing specialist help."

We also asked Justice Minister Judith Collins for a response to our campaign. She has yet to reply.

- Sunday Star Times

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