An Auckland youth worker who "predated on" a 12-year-old girl and coerced her into performing sexual acts on him while he was supervising her at an after school programme has been sentenced to home detention.
Devonte Vincent Walter Mulitalo, 23, pleaded guilty to one charge of sexual connection with a young person under 16, and a second charge of indecent communication with a young person.
Mulitalo appeared in the Auckland District Court today for sentencing before Judge Mary-Beth Sharp.
Between January and July 2017 the Glen Innes man sent "numerous" sexually explicit images to a 12-year-old girl.
He also admitted coercing the girl into a shed to perform sexual acts on him.
At the time Mulitalo was employed at Youth Town - a nationally operated, not-for-profit organisation focusing on developing 5-18 year olds.
He was a supervisor and co-ordinator for after school care and the young victim was in under his watch.
According to a Youth Town profile Mulitalo was also a top basketballer who played for the NZ Development Squad and Counties Manukau.
After meeting the 12-year-old, Mulitalo began telling the girl how much he liked her.
Initially he hugged her, but that moved on to kissing and further into other sexual acts.
He was 21 at the time and the victim was 12 when the contact started.
Mulitalo would tell the girl to lie and say she needed to go to the toilet and meet him in a shed.
He would give the other children lollies and let them play video games to keep them away from the shed.
Mulitalo tried to get the girl to have full intercourse with him but she refused.
He also started meeting her outside of Youth Town and would drive her to places where he would continue to abuse her.
He sent her photographs of his penis and videos of him masturbating.
Mulitalo was charged after his colleagues found the lewd images on the girl's phone and alerted police.
Victim impact statements were read in court today by Crown prosecutor Henry Steele - the first from the young victim.
"Because of you my attitude and behaviour has gone really bad… I feel like it's all my fault.
"I lost friends, I feel like a really bad person."
She said her relationship with her parents and schooling had suffered significantly.
She had also self harmed and struggled with suicidal thoughts.
She felt like a "slut and a bitch" and felt she had been blamed by some for Mulitalo's offending.
"You manipulated me to do what you wanted…"
The victim's father also had his statement read.
He described his reaction when he heard that his daughter had been engaging sexually with Mulitalo.
"My heart broke and I felt ill…I couldn't hold back my tears," he said.
As she revealed more of her sexual encounters with Mulitalo - from kissing to oral sex and other acts - she began to struggle.
"She told me she wanted to kill herself and I had to constantly tell her it wasn't her fault…" the victim's father said.
"[We] felt like we failed as parents to protect our daughter.
He said the offending was "devastating and soul destroying" and impacted the whole family.
It almost ended his marriage, affected his wife's mental health.
"We blamed ourselves," he said.
The girl's mother said the impact on her was immense - she suffered two miscarriages and has battled with a "deep" depression as a result of what happened to her child.
"It turned our world upside down…. It was the lowest point of our lives," her statement said.
"I will never be the same person again… what transpired almost ended our family.
"We are all hurting emotionally, physically and financially… every day we are dealing with this, it doesn't go away."
Steele said Mulitalo's offending was serious and the Crown sought a sentence of more than three years imprisonment.
"He was in a position of real responsibility… he used that position, the trust placed in him, to offend against the victim," he told the court.
"He predated on her, groomed her and physically isolated her in order to offend."
Steele said Mulitalo's offending was a "gross breach of trust" and exploitation - and the effects were "catastrophic" for the victim and her family.
He asked Judge Sharp to enter Mulitalo on the child sex offender register.
Defence lawyer Panama Le'au'anae agreed that the impact of Mulitalo's offending was "profound".
He said when the sexual abuse occurred Mulitalo was "only 22".
"He had been overseas and returned to New Zealand to assist with family matters," Le'au'anae told the court.
"He secured this opportunity at Youth Town… there was a lack of insight on his part, immaturity.
"Quite clearly he should never have engaged in the way he did… at the time of the offending he was only 22.
"It doesn't excuse his behaviour… but it might give some form of insight as to why he went down this path."
Le'au'anae sought a sentence of home detention with a condition that he complete a programme for sexual offenders through SAFE.
He told the court that Mulitalo's mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was likely having a mastectomy early in the new year.
He was motivated to complete the course so he could avoid jail and be home to support his mother through her treatment.
Mulitalo wrote an apology letter to his victim which was presented to the court.
"He is genuinely remorseful," said Le'au'anae.
He encouraged the court not to put his client on the sex offender register, saying it could harm his future in terms of employment, rehabilitation and other prospects.
Le'au'anae said reparation could be offered of about $1500 but Mulitalo's mother would have to speak to her wider family to raise the funds.
Judge Sharp said the charges Mulitalo faced were representative, meaning Mulitalo committed multiple offences of the same type in similar circumstances.
She said Mulitalo had groomed the victim and there was a "significant level" of premeditation.
"She was just a little girl… this was a gross breach of trust," said Judge Sharp.
The girl was vulnerable because of her age and the fact she had been entrusted into Mulitalo's care.
She said Mulitalo had expressed "extraordinary remorse" and insight into his offending.
He was "highly motivated" to address his behaviour and reduce the likelihood of reoffending through doing the SAFE programme.
"As far as I'm concerned the overwhelming purpose of sentencing you is to see to it that you are completely rehabilitated and you will not sexually reoffend in the future," said Judge Sharp.
"I have my worries that you are a paedophile… but I am satisfied if you graduate from the SAFE programme that the risk you pose to the community and in particular young girls will be sincerely and severely mitigated if not abolished."
Judge Sharp said it was crucial for her to hand down a sentence that ensured Mulitalo got the help he needed to make sure no one else was harmed in his future.
She sentenced Mulitalo to 11 months home detention and ordered him to be assessed for and if accepted to undertake the SAFE programme.
He was also ordered to undertake any other counselling or programmes ordered by his probation officer.
And Mulitalo is banned from associating with or having any contact with any person under 16 except his brother - unless supervised by an approved adult.
Mulitalo was also added to the child sex offender's register.
Judge Sharp said offending like Mulitalo's was prevalent and he posed a risk to young people.
"This is as much a matter of safety for young people as anything but it is also a matter of safety for you because it will be more likely you won't come into contact with youngsters who you might otherwise be tempted by," she explained.
Mulitalo's mother stormed out of court as the order was made.
Judge Sharp also banned Mulitalo from owning, possessing or using any electronic device capable of accessing the internet while he was on home detention unless his probation officer authorised it.
The banning was primarily to prevent him accessing social media, which he used in his offending against the 12-year-old.
Judge Sharp said the saddest thing about the case was the number of people who had been hurt by Mulitalo's offending.
The number of people who had become suicidal as a result, including the victim, her mother and Mulitalo himself, was tragic.
SEXUAL HARM - DO YOU NEED HELP?
If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone call the Safe to Talk confidential crisis helpline on 0800 044 334.
You can also:
• text 4334
• email support@safetotalk
&bul; for more information, resources, and webchat visit www.safetotalk.nz
If you have been abused, remember it's not your fault.