A sportsman has been granted a discharge without conviction for his sexual connection with a teenage girl after a judge ruled a conviction would be a ‘crushing blow’ to his future prospects in life.
The man was also given name suppression when he appeared for sentencing in the Wellington District Court today - a move the Crown opposed.
The young woman at the centre of the case also made a plea to the court to reveal the man’s identity in the hope he could never prey on another person again.
“It is impossible to put into words the impact of this predator’s actions ... I was 15 and he was an adult,” she said in a statement written for the court.
“His sick crimes made me conscious around boys, so I moved to a single-sex school ... I should be a carefree flourishing young lady, but instead, I am a shell of a person.”
Judge Bruce Davidson told the man, a former high-performance athlete, that to be convicted on the charges of unlawful sexual connection with a young person and exposing a young person to indecent material would be a “crushing blow” to future prospects in his life.
“The gravity of offending viewed as a whole is relatively low, but consequences of conviction for you are quite grave and, in my view, out of all proportion to the offending itself,” Judge Davidson said.
The man and teen had met over the social media application Snapchat in 2021. Their messages turned sexual and the athlete, who now has permanent name suppression, sent images of his genitals to the teen five years his junior.
At a later date, the two met in person, with the teen travelling to the man’s flat where she would perform oral sex. They would later have “brief” intercourse in his car.
Police charged the man over a year after the encounters, and he was unable to compete internationally and represent New Zealand in his chosen sport.
This sport, in line with suppression orders, cannot be disclosed.
The young woman was not present in court today but had a friend read her victim impact statement.
She spoke about the devastating impact his actions had on her, emotionally, physically and psychologically.
Men now scare the young woman, her relationship with her father has been impacted and her school life turned upside down.
“His assaults aggravated my anxiety and I wanted to stay in bed for days.
“He might be able to move on, but I can’t.”
Crown prosecutor Claire Hislop advocated for the man to be convicted, sentenced and have his identity revealed.
Hislop said the offending was serious and the “very high” threshold for both applications, in her assessment, wasn’t met.
However the man’s lawyer, Hugo Porter, successfully advocated for his client to be discharged without conviction, stating the impact of a conviction far outweighed the gravity of the offending.
He said the conviction and stigma would follow the man for life, and described the potential outcome, of being named by the media, a permanent brand.
Cast out by social and training circles, the man says he had been excluded from many joys in his life.
Porter said his client had become a hermit, and argued publication of his name would make him a permanent pariah.
“Convictions and publication would be permanently damaging, and perhaps that’s putting it lightly,” he told the court.
“He’s a young man under stress who knows what he’s going to do.”
Porter said the teen was just under 100 days short of the age where his client’s actions would not be an offence.
“It is not minimising what he’s done, but the nature of the convictions are such as he’s put the Olympic dream aside.”
The court heard the man had been the subject of public shaming on social media, and Judge Davidson said these actions by “citizen journalists” were dangerous.
He had completed over 300 hours of community service before sentencing, along with other “proactive” gestures like attending counselling and offering to pay the victim $2000 in emotional harm reparation.
The man’s offending occurred between April and July 2021, with police earlier confirming to NZME an investigation into his conduct had commenced in October last year.
Hazel Osborne is an Open Justice reporter for NZME and is based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Wellington. She joined the Open Justice team at the beginning of 2022, previously working in Whakatāne as a court and crime reporter in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.