A group of young men have been spared convictions after pleading guilty to sexual contact with underage girls.

The five Opotiki men, aged 17 and 18 at the time of the offending, were charged with unlawful sexual connection with girls aged 14 and 15, who went to school with them. All of the sex was consensual.

Judge Louis Bidois discharged the men without conviction after deciding it would be a punishment disproportionate to the offending.

"All of you are young, all first offenders, all accepted responsibility. All completed community work. All are prepared to make amends or have done so," he said.

Advertisement

"One can't undermine the emotional effect [a conviction] has on a person. We all make mistakes. The question is, how big is the mistake?"

He continued name suppression for all of the young men and the victims, saying "they had suffered enough".

Four of the men were charged with one count of unlawful sexual connection with a girl aged under 16, and one was charged with two counts. All were first-time offenders.

The judgment came after one of the girls tearfully read a victim impact statement to the packed courtroom, where dozens of people were forced to sit on the floor.

"I know I'm under 16 and and legally cannot give consent but I did," she said. "Police have not listened to me or how I felt."

She said she did not want to be classed as a victim and the most harmful part of the situation had been the police investigation.

"The police are determined to make [the accused] pay and make me feel like what I had with him was dirty and disgraceful. There was never anything disgusting about us being together."

Police began investigating the five cases late last year after several of the girls spoke to a deputy principal.

The girls told the teacher they knew of at least three girls who had engaged in sex with the older boys.

The school immediately contacted police, who interviewed the girls and initiated an inquiry calling for more victims, sparking a media frenzy. Five victims were eventually included in the charges.

The offending took place from February to August last year. The last incident, where a 14-year-old girl snuck out to meet one of the boys at a house and had sex with him, happened just before the complainant gave evidence to police.

All of the sex described was consensual, the girls said. There was no mention of alcohol or drugs in the case summaries.

Three charges stemmed from sexual intercourse between couples who were boyfriend and girlfriend at the time, or had previously been in relationships.

Two of the couples had sex on multiple occasions over the year, including, in one case, after a school ball, which they attended together.

One girl stated strongly that she knew what she was doing at the time, and did not want to be considered a victim. She remains in contact with the man charged with her statutory rape.

Others described how they had meet the boys through Facebook or Snapchat, which progressed to texting and meeting in real life, and then to sex. Two of the girls had sex with one boy each in the same car at the same time after sneaking out of a house.

One of the charges related solely to digital penetration.

None of the offending occurred at Opotiki College.

Some of the men initially admitted the charges, but later said they were drunk or couldn't remember what happened. Three refused to give statements to police.

One admitted having sex while in a relationship, saying he "couldn't help" who he was attracted to.

The court heard submissions from each of the young men's lawyers, who all argued they should not be convicted because the sex was consensual, and the effect of the conviction would outweigh the offending.

They all had bright futures - including one who could be heading for "All Black country" and others who were heading for apprenticeships or university.

When the judge gave his verdict, families in the courtroom started sobbing.

The young men will now have to pay $500 reparation.

The original story incorrectly reported the judge was Judge Peter Rollo. We regret the error.