Three survivors of childhood sexual offending talk about how the abuse impacted their lives, how they lived with the secret for decades, and how they felt in court last week when their abuser was finally brought to justice. Samantha Motion reports.
Sarah* spent her childhood pretending.
Pretending to be a child, pretending to be okay.
But, in reality, her innocence had been stolen and she was carrying the weight of a secret she had been told she could never tell.
From an early age, she was raped dozens of times over a number of years by a man in a position of trust.
Now, more than 50 years on, the man who sexually assaulted her - and nine other girls - has been brought to justice.
In the Tauranga District Court on Friday last week, a jury found Robert Ashleigh Edward McLarnon, 78, guilty of 32 charges of sexual offences committed in the 1960s, '70s and '80s in the Waihī and Katikati areas. Some charges were representative of multiple acts.
McLarnon was not in court to hear the verdicts or his name suppression lifted, having been taken to Tauranga Hospital in an ambulance shortly after the jury indicated it had come to a decision.
He has since been transferred to Waikeria Prison, Corrections confirmed, and was due to be sentenced on August 9.
Congestion-busting changes considered for Bayfair flyover
'Get on and do it': Council pays up to progress roading projects
A feeling of immense relief washed over Sarah as she heard the verdicts read.
"This is something I have carried for more than 50 years. It is such a relief that he is now accountable for his actions. Finally, I can see that justice does work."
She said it took decades for her to feel strong enough to talk about what happened to her.
"It was hard. I just decided enough was enough and I had to tell someone what he had done."
It took two years - including one postponed trial - for her to get her day in court, but by then she was not alone.
She said police, Victim Support and the other women were great, but the court process had been brutal.
She also struggled with some of the implications her decision to speak up had had for other people, such as McLarnon's family.
"I know people have been hurt by what I've done but, at the same time, you have got to remember it wouldn't have happened if the perpetrator had not done what he did.
"There is only one person to blame. It was not my fault. I was a little girl ... He was the grown-up."
McLarnon indecently assaulted Linda* twice when she was a teenager.
"I went off fruit for a long time because it happened in an orchard."
She tried to put it behind her but could never forget or bring herself to tell anyone.
"Who was going to believe (me) over someone of his stature?"
She had trust issues and recoiled when people brushed past her.
For 36 years, she got goosebumps every time she drove past that orchard.
That changed two years ago when she went to the police and told them what he did, after hearing he was facing charges.
"I drove past the orchard and it was the first time the hairs on the back of my neck have not stood up."
She said the feeling of hearing the guilty verdicts was "total relief".
"We have been believed. I am now totally relieved of what [he] did."
She encouraged anyone else living with the kind of secret she carried for so long to speak up.
"You will be heard."
For Anna* the relief of the guilty verdicts was that, at last, people would know what McLarnon did.
"Finally, the truth will come out."
McLarnon was found guilty of indecently assaulting her four times.
"My childhood and innocence were taken away."
While the court process had been painful, she wanted to thank police, Crown prosecutors and survivor advocates Louise Nicholas and Sheryl Martin for their support.
"They allowed all of us to navigate this process while holding on to our truth, dignity and integrity."
*Linda, Sarah and Anna are not their real names. As victims of sexual offending, their names are automatically and permanently suppressed.