A Facebook page has been launched in support of a disgraced cheerleading coach who was convicted of sex offences against underage girls.
The former executive director of Total Cheerleading, Nikola Michael Marinovich, 26, was found guilty at the Auckland District Court on March 22 of unlawful sexual connection with two girls aged 14 and 15 between 2004 and 2007. He will be sentenced on May 8.
Support for Marinovich is being headed by a former cheerleader he coached, 23-year-old Casey Maree Scott.
"Nik was like a brother to me and he has been painted as something he is not," she told the Herald on Sunday.
"I was shocked at the verdict."
Another supporter, Andrei Coman from Auckland, insisted charges against Marinovich were false.
"It was an unfair judgment and Nik needs our support," he said. "He has to know that he is not alone."
But officials and anti-sexual violence organisation Rape Prevention Education believe the support is misguided. "In our experience, men accused or convicted of these sorts of devastating crimes often recruit allies to say what a nice guy he is," said Dr Kim McGregor, executive director of RPE.
"I am surprised a Facebook campaign like this has been set up in New Zealand, but it is typical of these types of offenders to try to undermine victims.
"Only about 2 to 8 per cent of alleged sex crimes reported to police are believed to be false, and the offences that are uncovered are often just the tip of the iceberg."
Criminologist professor Greg Newbold, from the University of Canterbury, said sex offenders could often convince friends and family they were innocent.
"Females in particular can be incredibly loyal to a man who they believe has been a wonderful mentor to them," he explained.
Marinovich denied sexually violating the two teenagers but was found guilty by a jury.
One offence took place at a West Auckland gym during a lengthy one-on-one training session with the then 15-year-old. Another happened in the back seat of his car at Mission Bay, after he bought two 14-year-olds a bottle of vodka and had been driving them around before abusing one of them.
Cheerleading Association of New Zealand spokeswoman Rebecca Norton said Marinovich had never been a member of their organisation and had damaged the sport by his actions.
"It is sad to see people supporting him when he has done such terrible things to these poor girls," Norton said. "He has given cheerleading in New Zealand a bad look, which is a shame because it is a great sport."