Anna Leask

Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Gasps over judge's sex-case explanation

Victims' advocates appalled by attempt to explain jury's not-guilty verdict.

Barrister Catriona MacLennan said the ruling implied the teens put themselves in a position to be attacked.
Barrister Catriona MacLennan said the ruling implied the teens put themselves in a position to be attacked.

A High Court judge believes a man was acquitted of indecently assaulting two German tourists because jurors felt the young women were foolish for going out at night in Auckland "dressed as they were".

Justice John Priestley said he was surprised by the jury's decision.

But his comments - intended to explain the acquittal - have angered advocates for victims.

The jury found Troy Clement, 29, guilty of the aggravated robbery of the 18-year-olds in Albert Park in September last year.

But it cleared him of indecent assault and threatening to kill.

At sentencing - when Clements was jailed for three years and 10 months - Justice Priestley specifically addressed the jury's decision.

He said the defence and Crown in their closing addresses, and he in his summing-up to the jury, were "unified" in the facts of the case - which depended totally on the evidence and credibility of the victims.

"It was common ground between counsel that, on the basis of the victims' stories, the ingredients of all four charges you faced were made out," he told Clements. "But your acquittal on the two indecent assault counts was surprising.

"My conclusion is that ... a combination of the foolishness of your two victims, venturing out alone at night in a park in a strange city, dressed as they were, and the total absence of any DNA evidence, led to the jury collectively entertaining a reasonable doubt on the two indecent assault charges."

Barrister Catriona MacLennan said the ruling implied the teens put themselves in a position to be attacked.

"The lesson from this case is that, if I had been attacked, it would have been my fault for venturing out after dark without a male chaperone.

"What on earth has what women wear got to do with them being attacked? And why should women remain imprisoned in our homes after dark?"

Sensible Sentencing Trust spokeswoman Ruth Money described it as a poor choice of words. "It is hard enough for victims of sex attacks to register complaints and be brave enough to face the court process."

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READ MORE: Catriona MacLennan - Stop blaming the victims
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Rape Prevention Education executive director Dr Kim McGregor said "victim-blaming" was common. "The comments ... demonstrate how widespread, pervasive and entrenched victim-blaming attitudes are.

"The focus should be on the perpetrator - why was he carrying a knife, why was he lying in wait to terrorise these young women?"

Judicial spokesman Neil Billington said the judge's remarks - made in June - were in explanation of how the jurors might have seen the evidence and why they chose to acquit.

"The comments were not a reflection of a personal view by the judge and should be read in the context of the decision as a whole. ... the judge did not say the 'foolishness' of the complainants led to them being attacked. He was attempting to explain an apparently inconsistent verdict."

- NZ Herald

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