"A or l? A, b, c. A or l? L, m, n, o - Could."
Charmeyne Te Nana-Williams is spelling out words, holding her husband Peter's hand. He's a tetraplegic and non-verbal, but has some voluntary movement in his right hand and his toe. He can also blink.
"Could you please tell Chris 'thank you'."
"Peter," I ask. "Can I be really sure you want me to write this article?" It's then that I first feel his eyes and the person within. He's intense but warm and looking right into me. There is a deliberate blink.
"Touch my face, if you really want Chris to do this," says Charmeyne.
Peter lifts his right hand from his lap and moves it towards his wife and brushes her cheek.
"And you are okay for me to say in the article that this abuse happened to you?"
Once again, the blink. Once again, his hand lifts and he touches Charmeyne's cheek.
I tell him I think he's incredibly brave. He makes a noise. It's like a laugh and quite different from the other noise he makes that's like a cry.
In his wheelchair Peter Williams is very tall - 1.96m - and still. As he was in the boxing ring, he's not afraid of anything. It was in 2002, a few hours after winning the super-heavyweight final at the national amateur championships, that Peter suffered the brain injury that put him here.
He wants to talk about how, four years ago, he was sexually abused by a female caregiver.
Peter spells out again. "Please tell Chris we will do anything to make sure that this doesn't happen to other people." Over the next hour he explains more - how difficult it is for someone like him to get justice. And how he is still angry about what happened.
Charmeyne found out one morning when she came in to see Peter, as usual, after the night shift. "I could see he was really distressed. His eyes were red and I could tell he hadn't been sleeping. Peter spelled out to me: 'She has got something she needs to tell you'." Charmeyne asked the care worker what had happened. The woman shrugged, walked out the room and then left the house. "Peter finished spelling out that she had been sexually abusing him. As soon as that happened I went to the police."
The police investigated and the care worker was charged with sexual violation. The case was unusual and time-consuming - taking two years to get to court. Peter gave his testimony from his home via a video link to the court - laboriously spelling out his answers to both defence and prosecution questions.
In the process, a misunderstanding in Peter's answers about the extent of the abuse that occurred - on the day it was discovered and how long it had occurred overall, was seized upon by the defence.
"It had the effect of creating an element of doubt and that Peter must be lying," says Charmeyne. The family was presented with three options. Take Peter into the court to testify. Go through the whole process of giving video testimony again, which would delay everything for another two years. Or continue and hope for the best.
"I said 'I can't do this for another two years' and I wasn't going to let Peter go to court," says Charmeyne. "We decided we would just have to go for it, but the damage was done and the jury came back with a not guilty verdict."
Charmeyne has nothing but praise for the police investigative unit that handled the case, but found the court process wanting. She felt the court needed to hear from a psychologist with expertise in supporting people who are non-verbal as a result of brain injury - an expert who could provide the court with advice on how questions might be asked and the effect of the disability on communication.
"The system is not set up to support you," she says. "I was embarrassed. It was like we were the ones on trial. When I was on the stand, it was me having to protect the integrity of my husband and myself. I would never do it again."
Peter cries out, his face contorted as though in anguish. It happens often throughout the interview. "Am I upsetting you, Peter, with what is being said?" I ask. Peter stops and fixes his gaze at me, unblinking. It's a firm "no".
For a long time following the abuse Charmeyne was overwhelmed with guilt.
"I felt I didn't protect Peter - it took me a long time to get over that." In the court she says it was as though Peter's testimony was at once rejected and accepted to suit the outcome. "It was like when it came to sex Peter had the ability to make decisions but when it came to communicating he had a traumatic brain injury and wasn't fully cognisant."
The event was the last straw in a series of mistreatments by caregivers of Peter that convinced Charmeyne there had to be a better way.
"By the time this happened, I'd had enough - we had used two agencies and 150 staff over 18 months."
It led to Charmeyne taking over the management of Peter's care herself and the formation of a trust - What Ever It Takes - to develop a new model of caring. Today the home-based rehabilitation service employs 50 staff and cares for people throughout New Zealand with complex support needs. The What Ever it Takes philosophy builds directly on Peter's experience and seeks to establish caring based on collaboration, partnership and trust.
Today, Peter lives at home with Charmeyne and their 9-year-old twin daughters. Family members and specialised carers make up a team that provide the 24-hour care Peter requires. Some, but certainly not all, of the care is funded through ACC - the balance coming from Charmeyne's earnings.
The What Ever it Takes approach is something Charmeyne would like to see adopted more widely in the disability sector. "It is about working with families to create a collective and not separating the client from the whanau," she says. "Recognising it's the family that provides the love and care and support - that they are the ones that provide the quality of life."
It's also about being accountable and taking responsibility.
Charmeyne highlights two simple things that could have prevented what happened to Peter. The first is that organisations recruiting staff to look after vulnerable people need to properly vet who they employ. The second is passing on information to the families of those being cared for.
"The company that initially employed this woman became aware she had an extensive criminal record - including drugs offences - and not once did they ever reveal that information to us. Worse still, she went on from us to another agency and continued to care for others with disabilities."
The communication gap
In the past four years Waitakere Police have acted on around six complaints of sexual abuse of people with disabilities, a statistic that may be the tip of the iceberg.
"I think it is really under-reported," says Detective Sergeant Megan Goldie, who has seven years' experience with the station's child protection unit. "I think there are a lot of people who wouldn't have the ability to report it or the families don't know what to do."
She says the cases have mainly been with children or younger adults with mental disabilities and difficulties with communication.
"A too-common scenario is they'll be abused by taxi drivers on their way to their care facility," says Goldie. "It's like doing something to a pre-verbal child - unless there is a physical injury, who is ever going to know?" She says another common site for sexual abuse is at respite care - often the abuse is by other clients at the facility and due to lack of sufficient supervision. Her advice to families who have someone in care is to be extra-vigilant and listen as best they can if there is any hint of a complaint.
"If their knowledge around sexual matters is way more than it has been previously, then you need to think about why that is."
It's important also to think about other avenues of gathering and recording evidence - such as photographing a bruise.
"A violation of this nature is particularly stressful for the families, too," says Goldie. She acknowledges also that winning such cases is extremely difficult because of the high standard of proof required. "It's difficult to win them full stop - the success rate of child abuse cases is abysmal."
Goldie understands why Charmeyne would never go through the process again. "I've seen what it does to families and I've seen the toll it takes."
She never had any doubts about the complaint. "The integrity of Peter and Charmeyne was very evident right from the start. Why would someone make up something like that and go through the drama of having to tell a story and having to maintain it?"
It helped, too, that Goldie understood Peter's was a physical, not a mental, disability. In hindsight she thinks it may have helped, as happens with child abuse cases, for a psychologist to explain the unique circumstances of the case to the jury.
"A or l? A, b, c. A or l? L, m, n, o - Could."