Seasonal worker jailed after admitting raping girl at train station

By rnz.co.nz and is republished with permission

A seasonal worker who dragged an 11-year-old girl into the toilets of the Blenheim train station to rape her has been sentenced to seven years in prison.

Steven Tari Tambean Garae, 24, earlier pleaded guilty to rape and unlawful sexual connection after the attack on the schoolgirl last April. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment.

Garae, who is from Vanuatu, was on a Recognised Seasonal Employer limited visa at the time.

In the Blenheim District Court, Judge Tony Zohrab said it was a random attack, a brutal violation of an 11-year-old girl on a toilet floor.

“You sacrificed her present and future wellbeing to satisfy your selfish sexual desires and your selfish behaviour has led to a catastrophic impact on the victim and her family.”

The court heard how the victim had been riding a bike with her friend who was on a scooter, one Sunday morning in April 2023, when Garae began following them.

Blenheim District Court

Steven Garae, 24, was sentenced to seven years in prison, when he appeared in the Blenheim District Court for the rape and sexual violation of a school girl. Photo: RNZ / Samantha Gee

Garae started a conversation with the victim and when they were close to the train station in Sinclair Street, he dragged her by the wrist into a public toilet, locked the door, then sexually violated and raped her.

The girl’s friend ran across State Highway 1 to get help from people in a bakery close by.

The attack lasted seven minutes after which Garae ran off. He was later found by police and arrested. He initially claimed the sex was consensual, before admitting he had raped the girl.

Judge Zohrab said in a victim impact statement, the girl said she was now treated differently, that people were more protective of her while some friends had distanced themselves and others teased her and called her names.

“She said she feels sad almost all the time and feels like it is getting worse, not better.

“She says she used to like herself but she doesn’t like herself much anymore and she feels what happened sometimes was her fault.”

Innocence taken away – grandmother

Her grandmother told the court that Garae had given the victim a lifetime sentence.

“He has taken the innocence away from our granddaughter and now we find it hard to trust people and to trust that this will not occur again.

“She cannot understand why she cannot go out on her own like other children her age.”

For some time after the assault she had lost her appetite and could not eat, she was taking medication to sleep at night and was seeing a child psychiatrist but there were ongoing concerns for her mental health.

The girl had to fly to Auckland for a sexual assault forensic exam, including pregnancy and STI tests, where it was revealed she suffered internal injuries as a result of the rape.

Her grandmother said she felt “sick to the stomach that a person could think they could do such sexual acts on an 11-year-old child” and think it would be consensual.

Outside court, family members expressed their disappointment with the prison sentence, which came with a minimum period of imprisonment of three and a half years, which they said was not long enough.

Aggravating features

Crown prosecutor Jackson Webber said it was an “appalling rape of a vulnerable girl” and the kind of offending that was “terrifying for the community”.

He said there were a number of aggravating features; the element of abduction, a degree of premeditation, the fact the victim was young and vulnerable and that she had suffered several indignities which had a profound effect on her wellbeing.

“It was so stark, so violent, it was just horrendous offending that sets the community on edge.”

Defence counsel Emma Riddell said Garae had not coped well with being sent to New Zealand and his segregation while incarcerated had increased his mental impairment.

She said Garae would be deported once he had served his sentence and would not be released back into the community or be allowed to enter the country again.

“But what the Parole Board is going to need to see is that he is undergoing some treatment before they can be satisfied that he should be deported to Vanuatu to ensure the Vanuatu community is safe.”

Judge Zohrab said Garae’s selfish behaviour had a catastrophic impact on the victim, her family and the wider community.

“This sort of offending strikes right at the heart of one’s sense of community wellbeing.

“Locals in Blenheim are wondering what is going on in their community if two 11-year-old girls can’t go out on a bike and a scooter at 9.30am in the morning without being violated in this way.”

From a starting point of 10 years, Garae was given a 25 percent discount for an early guilty plea and a 5 percent discount for his youth and previous good character.

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