By MICHELE HEWITSON



The documented evidence - the fading photographs, the home movies - of Tanjas Darke's early years makes it look idyllic.



There she is, a pretty young girl with untamed hair, running a bit wild against the exotic backdrop of Vanuatu. To Hell and Back: Tanjas' Story is the story behind those pictures.



We already know that Darke's father, Ronald Van Der Plaat, is serving a 14-year prison sentence for the crimes he committed against his daughter. That the rape, sexual violation and indecent assault of his daughter began when she was just 9 and continued into her 30s.

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"It happened so quick I didn't even have time to turn around and wave goodbye to my childhood," she says.



Van Der Plaat did not just keep his daughter as a sex slave. He kept her, for 23 years, in a state of total bondage - which went far beyond the sexual torture he submitted her to.



His preferred tools of physical bondage were handcuffs, chains and clamps, while his preferred tools of psychological bondage were many and varied.



In later years she cooked, cleaned and earned the only household income. Although she had a job and a chequebook, she was not allowed to buy anything, or even to go to the corner shop.



Van Der Plaat put her head in a padlocked box while he raped her and filled her ears with wax. He didn't need padlocks to ensure that her entire life was lived within a prison.



There were long periods when she was not allowed to leave the house in Vanuatu. She would sit on the balcony, read, and look out at that which had offered so briefly a glimpse of a childhood paradise.



"It was like being on a ship at sea," says Darke. "You could see the land but you couldn't touch it."



When she finally managed to move into her own flat in Auckland (she was pregnant to him and persuaded him that it would provoke speculation that he was the father if she was still living with him) he harassed her unmercifully. He refused to let her take her cats and refused to feed them, ensuring that she would visit every day.

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Darke and her father had been deported from Vanuatu after independence. They were "undesirables" - a label likely to have been a consequence of the rumours about their "relationship", whispered about in the tiny township of Vila for years.



When it became apparent that they were going to have to leave, Van Der Plaat, in one of a sickening series of bizarre moves, forced his daughter to see a doctor to demand a note indicating that she was still a virgin.



The doctor refused, but did provide a letter that said: "[Darke] did not show signs as such from sexual intercourse."



However, she had shown signs of abuse from an early age: she was described by her primary-school teacher in Vanuatu as a child who didn't smile, laugh or talk. By the time she was 12 she had been treated a number of times for sexually transmitted diseases.



When, 30 years later, Darke tracked down one doctor who had treated her, she had only to say her first name before he said that he had been waiting to hear from her for years.



To Hell and Back does not delve too deeply into the story of how Van Der Plaat was able to get away with it for all those years, or of how a mother could leave her child to him, telling her that she could "rot in Hell".



Or why a doctor, waiting for a phone call for decades, didn't make his own phone call decades ago to somebody about a small girl in trouble.



Van Der Plaat is in prison now, and Darke says she wishes him no ill. "I just basically don't want him to get at me."



Tanjas' story is one of shining courage and spirit. But do be warned: it is a story that will get at you.



*To Hell and Back: Tanjas' Story, TV One, 8.30 pm