Key Points:

The woman who shattered the fairy-tale history of Canterbury's well-to-do Stewart dynasty is tall, blonde, blue-eyed and smart. She also has a sharp sense of humour, model-like features and a winning smile.

Just days after Peter Stewart, 62-year-old son of revered plastics and electrical industrialist, the late Sir Robertson Stewart, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in jail for rape, sodomy and sexual abuse of a young girl, his saddened but stoic victim told the Herald on Sunday she might never have pursued Stewart through the courts if he had not contacted her at her work four years ago.

"I would have kept quiet, but then he opened the wound and I thought 'oh no, not again'."

The woman, now in her late 40s, and a mother, had moved happily amid the world of the Stewart family's multi-million-dollar fortune which funded exquisite homes, expensive cars and yachts, and a high society lifestyle.

This largesse came courtesy of PDL Industries, the Stewarts' landmark plastics and electrical business, which was sold to French company Schneider in 2001 for nearly $100m.

As the Christchurch High Court heard late last year, Peter Maxwell Stewart, who is married to New Zealand Fashion Week maven Pieter Stewart, initially faced 15 counts of sexual abuse.

He was convicted of three counts of indecent assault, two counts of inducing indecent acts and sodomy and rape. The charges related to incidents between 1968 and 1974 when Stewart was 22 to 29 and his victim a young girl aged 8 to 14.

Within minutes of this week's sentencing, defence counsel Jonathan Eaton signalled the Stewart family's intention to appeal.

The woman said she felt numb when the guilty verdicts were brought in. "I wasn't happy, I wasn't sad. It's just been a really hard time and very sad."

She added it had been the most difficult thing in her life to come forward because it had destroyed her family. "Sitting through that trial made me feel sick. I was on the stand for four days and my stomach was tied in knots."

Stewart had maintained his innocence throughout the trial and to this day. His defence alleged his victim was a fantasist, a liar and blackmailer.

He admitted only one act of consensual sex with the victim when she was 17.

But the judge noted that Stewart's rape conviction had come about from an incident alleged to have taken place when the girl was aged 14.

The prosecution said she had broken her ankle skiing and was being taken for medical assistance by Stewart, who had stopped at his home and raped her en route.

"I hate him for what he has done to me and how he has destroyed our families," the woman insists. "It's been really hard. When I first told my daughter she was so shocked and we haven't really talked a lot since."

At sentencing in the High Court at Christchurch on Tuesday Justice Panckhurst noted that the impact on the complainant had been severe and that she had been caused "huge emotional harm".

He said: "Families are split as a result of these events. If confirmation was required, what occurred in this trial confirmed again that sexual abuse, even after a period of over 30 years, can wreak havoc for those involved and those closest to them."

The woman says she had tried to block things out for years. "Life has been quite tough and I think it broke up my marriage but now I have to get on with life."

The length of Stewart's sentence was immaterial, she said, and there was no question she had been motivated by money. "Now I feel much stronger as a person."

She had words of encouragement for other women contemplating reporting sexual abuse. "I want to say to other women - to other victims - come forward and speak out. The police are wonderful. But be patient because it is a long process and you will get tired."

She was wary of the Stewart family's continued insistence of Peter Stewart's innocence and their determination, voiced after sentencing this week, to appeal against the convictions.

"We are all so tired and drained," she said. "I just don't want any more dramas."