David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Sex-change attacker's court plea

Transgender woman's deportation on hold as she appeals to stay in NZ for surgery.

In 2013, exceptional circumstances were cited in 79 successful appeals, against 19 cases in 2009. Photo / Greg Bowker
In 2013, exceptional circumstances were cited in 79 successful appeals, against 19 cases in 2009. Photo / Greg Bowker

A transgender woman convicted of indecency and sex attacks on boys was to be deported - but has been given a chance to stay in New Zealand so she can complete her transformation to becoming physically female.

Saolele Tauialo Pelu, born in 1969, was assessed as having a medium risk of re-offending after two convictions for targeting boys aged between 12 and 16 years. The offending happened while she was physically male but she identified herself as female.

She was to have been deported to Samoa after serving a three-year prison sentence. But her expressed desire to fully switch from male to female has earned her leave to appeal to the High Court, after she argued she should be allowed to stay on humanitarian grounds for gender reassignment surgery.

In one finding in her case, she said surgical gender re-assignment "will free her of an attraction to boys".

She felt that if she became a full woman, the young boys will become her "children" instead of potential sex partners."

The case is one of those created after a 2009 law change which was meant to make it easier to deport people from New Zealand. It introduced a test of "exceptional circumstances" for those who challenged deportation orders.

But confusion over what "exceptional" means has put Immigration NZ officials at odds with the tribunals that consider appeals against deportation.

In 2013, exceptional circumstances were cited in 79 successful appeals, against 19 cases in 2009.

Ms Pelu's initial appeal against deportation failed but a subsequent appeal to the High Court resulted in her being given a chance to make a case for being allowed to stay.

Her case will go before the court tomorrow.

The Immigration and Protection Tribunal, which hears initial appeals, was told Ms Pelu needed to stay in New Zealand to complete her gender reassignment journey.

She is taking hormone treatments before hoped-for surgery.

Evidence to the tribunal included testimony of her having relationships with boys aged 15 and 17 while in her 20s and living in Samoa.

In 2007, living in Auckland, she was charged with indecent assault against a boy aged between 12 and 16. The tribunal finding said she asked the boy to get into her car on the pretext of seeking directions then abducted him. She was ordered to do 250 hours of community work under intensive supervision.

In 2009 she used the same ploy to trick a 13-year-old boy into her car and carry out a sexual assault.

An initial sentence of supervision in the community was overturned when she was twice found in houses with children aged under 16. She was then sent to prison for three years and nine months, and guards raised concerns about her relationship with a much younger inmate.

Parole reports for Ms Pelu rated her risk of re-offending "medium to low risk" and noted limited social support would place it as "medium to high risk".

Deportation challenges
*A 2009 law change forced the Immigration and Protection Tribunal to find "exceptional circumstances''.
*The Supreme Court defined "exceptional'' as not meaning unique or rare but "an exception rather than the rule''.
*The ruling confused the "exceptional'' condition, which was intended to make it harder
to overturn deportation orders.
*Numbers of successful deportation challenges in which "exceptional circumstances''
have been cited have increased since.
79 in 2013
39 in 2012
19 in 2011
*The appeal process is listed to begin this week, but a hearing date has not been set.

- NZ Herald

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