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Samoa court hands down 35 years to man convicted of rape

Apia, SAMOA-- A young man who raped his five-year-old cousin on four separate occasions was sentenced to 35 years for the four counts of rape. “The victim was only five years’ old. She was just a child. A child who was sexually violated at that age or younger is a heinous offending," said Supreme Court Justice, Mata Tuatagaloa when handing down sentencing for the 22-year-old defendant last week.

The Justice went on to explain that in a Samoan family environment, children go over to their relatives’ houses to play with other children. The parents and family members let them go and play thinking they are with family and are therefore safe. The accused who is older is supposed to protect his younger cousins, especially female cousins but not to rape them.

According to the police summary of facts, the defendant was 18-years-old at the time of the crime, and the rape occurred on four separate occasions back in 2012. The summary of facts also said the accused committed the rapes when the victim went over to his house to play with his sister and there was no one around except for the accused.

 “The defendant  on the first rape covered the victim’s mouth with his hand to stop the victim from screaming. He also told the victim not to tell anyone or he would beat her up.”

According to the pre-sentencing report the defendant said that he only had sexual intercourse with the victim twice. However, he had confirmed the summary of facts by the prosecution, which relates to four counts of rape and he pled guilty to four counts of rape.

Tuatagaloa pointed out that there were written testimonies from his parents, church elder, pulenu’u (village mayor) and his rugby club who all spoke of him as a responsible and obedient young man and an avid rugby player.

He is involved with the village aumaga and his church youth group and the parents spoke of how shocked they are and it is very hard for them to accept what the accused had done. The mother as a parent blamed herself for failing to do her duties. The mother in her testimonial said the victim and her young children played together before the victim migrated to Australia. The court heard that the defendant has apologized to the victim’s parents who have accepted the apology and forgiven the defendant.

According to the court, the victim was five years’ old at the time of the offending, however she has since been adopted and moved to Australia with her adopted parents in 2014 where she is currently residing.

 “There is no medical report or victim impact report as to any physical and/or psychological harm to the victim. Given her very young age the court believes that there would be physical injuries to the victim’s genitalia from the defendant having full sexual intercourse with her. The court can only speculate on any psychological impact this offending will (or may already) have on this young victim.” Prosecutor Leone Su’a noted the aggravating factors of this offending include breach of trust; vulnerability of the victim; age disparity; not a “one-off” incident; offending occurred around the family environment and it occurred over a long period of time.

Defense counsel, Wallwork pointed out that the defendant acknowledged the trauma and pain caused to the victim but said that the prosecution have overstated the aggravating factors of this offending. “Counsel submitted that the offending was more opportunistic than pre-meditated. She acknowledged that violence is inherent in the offense of rape other than that there was no other violence associated with the commission of this offending. If there is, it would be of very low level.”

The defense counsel sought for a non-custodial sentence to allow the accused to be rehabilitated. She noted that the mitigating factors includes the fact the defendant’s age at the time of the offending; the apology by his family to the victim’s natural parents; the defendant is a first time offender and his early plea of guilty at first available opportunity, which is a sign of remorse and that his guilty plea means that the victim will not relive the whole ordeal from having to give evidence in a trial.

The court however pointed out that there is a 13-year disparity in age between the defendant and the victim. “The bigger the disparity and the younger the victim is — the more serious the offending. The younger the victim the more vulnerable she is. Contrary to what counsel for the accused said in her submissions that there was no associated violence other than violent that is inherent in any sexual offending, I disagree. The defendant placed his hand over the victim’s mouth to stop her from screaming for help is an act of violence.”

Tuatagaloa further pointed out that the sexual incidents occurred four separate occasions and also noted the obvious breach of trust. “There is always an element of trust where people who are concerned are related. In this case, the accused and the victim are second cousins.” The Supreme Court Justice stated that although there is no medical report of the impact of this offending upon this young victim. “I cannot discount the fact that there is always a risk of some psychological harm that this young victim may (if not already) suffer. The first rape may have been opportunistic but the three (3) subsequent rapes were not.

“It is noted that the village has not imposed any penalties or sanction upon this accused.”  Tuatagaloa also said although, the victim no longer lives in Samoa the accused needs to be held accountable for what he did and the harm done to the victim. He needs to know that such behavior is not acceptable. Tuatagaloa sentenced the defendant to eight years and seven months for each of the four counts a total of 35 years and eight months in jail