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Sunday 09 April 2017

Abuse of Trust Pt 4: Justice

Posted in: True Stories
By Jay Bennie - 11th May 2014

Abuse of Trust Pt 1: The trap

Abuse of Trust Pt 2: The assaults

Abuse of Trust Pt 3: Victims ignored

Late in 2012 a second man approached the NZAF with concerns about Silipa Take's behaviour behind the closed door of his consulting room.

It had been three years since Taki resigned after the first formal allegation that he was sexually molesting a client. At that time the management of the otherwise excellent NZAF was increasingly under attack for putting process and policy matters and its own agenda ahead of the needs of actual people.

But his second time around the culture at the NZAF, under its new Chief Executive and changing management team, was altering. The response was totally different. The fine details of what happened are unavailable to us but based on the facts we know, and joining up the dots occasionally, we can say that almost immediately the police were called in and the complainant was supported in laying a formal complaint. That was the trigger for a full police investigation.

Juggling the needs of a criminal investigation with the need for respecting the privacy and sensibilities of its clients, the NZAF turned its counselling resources over to making enquiries, supporting the emerging number of sexually abused clients through the process and liaising between them and the police.

Very quickly, on October 26, 2012, the first actual charges of sexual assault were laid and Take was identified. Take's fellow NZAF counsellors in Wellington and Auckland hit the phones, postponing their day to day work where possible to instead work their way delicately through his client list. Some clients would have given fake names and contact details, others may have moved, but the counsellors plugged on and the gay media helped to get the word out.

Eventually thirteen charges relating to ten of Take's victims were laid. It is likely that there are more victims and it is certain that there could have been more charges laid. The NZAF publicly apologised for the actions of its staffer and for its own lax initial response three years before.


Delay after delay meant the case only started to head towards trial early this year. Suddenly, on March 19th, Take pleaded guilty to all the charges outlined in part two of this feature series. Take narrowly avoided more "serious" charges "due to issues around evidence" according to the police prosecutor.

And so, over three years on from the period of offending laid out on the charge sheets, Take stood in the Wellington District court before sentencing judge Peter Hobbs.

The prosecution lawyer made much of comments in the police report that Take did not appear to believe that what he had been doing was wrong. She asked for a term of imprisonment "to reflect the nature and amount of offending".

She advised that a sum of money was available immediately should the court impose a fine or to be used "for restorative justice." She advised that Take had lost his recent non-counselling job through pleading guilty. She described as "bizarre" a comment contained in a probation report that Take appeared to be countenancing a return to counselling. "Nothing could be further from the truth," she said, adding that "his offending has meant his work of fifteen years and his qualifications are gone."

Her client, she noted, found it "inexplicable" that the probation officer had felt Take was minimising his offending. "He acknowledges he crossed the line and he hates himself for it," she said.

She reminded the court that there was no suitable sexual offenders programme appropriate to the case and said Take has already voluntarily undergone counselling.

"There is no issue that he could offend again," she said. "Mr Take is extremely remorseful and acknowledges the effect of his offending on the victims. He is disappointed in his actions."

"The offending was nearly five years ago, over several months," she noted, adding that the offending had occurred during a stressful period when a close family member had been diagnosed with cancer and restructuring at the NZAF had led him to fear losing half of his job.

And she recommended a sentence of home imprisonment rather then imprisonment, asking the judge to take also into account Take's guilty plea, his offer or reparations and his previous good character.

Finally she asked the judge to take into account Take's "lifetime of devotion to the gay community."

In summing up and explaining the sentence he was about to hand down, Judge Hobbs noted that the maximum proscribed by law for Take's offences is seven years imprisonment.

He noted that the offending was not spontaneous and involved "a most significant breach of trust." It was the trust which gave Take the opportunity to prey "on victims who were already vulnerable." Some of those victims "have had ongoing emotional difficulties he said, eye-balling Take.

The judge decided that the starting point for calculating Take's sentence would be two and a half years in jail.

He then noted the lack of previous convictions, testaments to his good character and the offer of cash for reparations. He listed Take's willingness to attend restorative justice conferences, which one of his victims is willing to attend. That take had already voluntarily undertaken counselling was another mitigating factor. Therefore, the judge said, he would reduce the sentence to two years and two months.

Hobbs gave Take credit for his guilty plea, but wryly noted it was rather "late in the matter." And he hinted at a serious charge which had been withdrawn "due to issues of proof."

Given these considerations Judge Hobbs applied a "20% discount for the guilty plea" which he used to lower the sentence to 21 months.

In explaining the principles and purposes of sentencing, Judge Hobbs said the intent was to hold the perpetrator to account, to deter repeat offending and to reflect the gravity of the offending. But, he said, sentencing should also take into account the personal circumstances of the perpetrator and to favour the "least restrictive outcome." He noted several times that this was "a finely balanced case."

Then, releasing the tension somewhat he said he was not satisfied that "imprisonment is inevitable." he said he believed Take presented no risk to the community and was "highly unlikely to work again in this area of responsibility."

Finally he declared the sentence to be ten months home detention with special conditions for the following six months including not associating with and victims and attending psychological assessment and completing any resulting treatment. Additionally, Hobbs, said, he was adding 250 hours of community work and applying the offered $6,500 to reparations for the victims.

And that was it. After almost five years Take's victims could perhaps take some comfort that their long, lonely period of hurt and suffering at the hands of a man they thought they could trust had been dealt with by the justice system.

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Jay Bennie - 11th May 2014