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Pacific islander farm worker jailed for raping a girl, 11, in a New Zealand public toilet – leaving her with internal injuries

A Vanuatuan seasonal worker has been jailed for seven years for the horrific rape of an 11-year-old girl in a train station toilet in New Zealand – but could be out in just three and a half.

Steven Tari Tambean Garae, 24, followed his victim, who had been riding her bike with a friend, before striking up a conversation and then dragging her by the wrist into the public toilets at Blenheim train station where he locked the door, sexually violated and raped her in a seven-minute attack in April 2023.

The girl had to be flown to Auckland for a sexual assault exam which included pregnancy and STD tests, and was found to be suffering internal injuries as a result of the rape, RNZ reported.

Garae was arrested after fleeing the scene and at first told police the girl consented to sex before admitting to the rape.

In sentencing, Blenheim District Court Judge Tony Zohrab told Garae: “You sacrificed [the girl’s] 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.”

But he gave Garae, who had pleaded guilty to rape and unlawful sexual connection, a sentence of just 10 years, with a 25% discount due to the early plea, and a 5% discount for good character. Each charge had a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment.

The girl’s family members said outside court they were unhappy with the sentence, which only mandated a minimum of three and a half years.

Crown prosecutor Jackson Webber described the rape as “appalling” and “terrifying for the community”, and listed aggravating elements such as abduction, the age and vulnerability of the victim, and the injuries suffered by the girl.

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

But defence lawyer Emma Riddell told the court that Garae had struggled to cope with being sent to New Zealand on a Recognised Seasonal Employer limited visa, and that his mental impairment had been exacerbated by being in segregation in jail.

She said he would be deported on completion of his sentence, but not until the Parole Board was “satisfied that he should be deported to Vanuatu to ensure the Vanuatu community is safe”.

The court heard Garae’s victim lost her appetite after the rape, needed medication to sleep, and was seeing a child psychiatrist.

In a victim impact statement described by Judge Zohrab, the girl said she feels sad almost all the time, feels she is treated differently, and said some friends have distanced themselves from her, while others teased her and called her names.

“She says she used to like herself but she doesn’t like herself much anymore, and she feels what happened sometimes was her fault,” Judge Zohrab said, and noted that Garae’s offending had a devastating impact on his victim, her family and the community.

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