The case of a young Auckland man who had sex with a 14-year-old Dunedin girl he met through an online dating site highlights the dangers of teenagers communicating through the internet, a judge says.
The facts of the case would reflect the worst concerns of many parents, Dunedin District Court Judge Stephen Coyle said when sentencing 22-year-old Nikhil Batra for having unlawful sexual connection with the teenager on July 21.
The undisputed facts from the Crown summary were that Batra met the girl through an internet dating site for people 18 years and older, Judge Coyle said. Although she was 14, the girl misrepresented her age as 18. She and Batra communicated over time and developed a relationship and an attraction.
In July, Batra travelled to Dunedin but, when he met the girl, he realised she did not look 18. When he suggested she might have been 16, she told him she was only 14. Knowing that, the defendant nevertheless hired a motel room, invited the girl to stay and had sex with her, the judge said.
Her parents found her at the motel and called the police.
Batra immediately acknowledged what had happened, but he explained he loved the girl and age did not matter.
Counsel Anne Stevens said that showed how naive the defendant was. The fact English was not his first language might have created some difficulties for his understanding of the situation, she said.
Crown counsel Richard Smith said it was accepted there had been no plan to coerce the girl and there was no element of grooming.
Judge Coyle told Batra the particular law existed because Parliament recognised that those under the age of 16 were vulnerable and not able to give informed consent because of their youth. The girl's age should have been a signal to him that, no matter how willing she was, he should not have engaged in sexual activity with her.
In the pre-sentence report, Batra said that if he had a sister in the same situation he could imagine the pain it would cause his whole family.
"If you understand that now, it begs the question why you did not at the time when you found out she was 14," the judge told Batra.
The incident had profoundly affected the girl, who had developed a tendency to self-harm. But she remained of the view the defendant's love for her was genuine. Batra also maintained that what happened was centred on deep and true emotions.
Taking into account there had been only one incident of sex and that Batra was remorseful and said he had never wanted to hurt anyone, Judge Coyle sentenced him to 10 months' home detention at an Auckland address. As special conditions of the sentence and for six months after its expiry, Batra must attend courses, treatment and programmes for issues relating to the offending and must complete a specified relevant programme (SAFE) as directed.