Man sent sexually-explicit messages to 9-year-old girl in US

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A 47-year-old Timaru man sent sexually-explicit images of himself to a 9-year-old girl in the United States, encouraging her to do the same, after befriending her online.

“My daughter used to be bubbly and outgoing, now she is fearful and isolates herself,” the victim’s mother, attending the sentencing via audio-visual link from the US, told the Timaru District Court on Tuesday.

“She doesn’t feel she deserves affection, nor does she share it. She feels guilt and shame – which he should carry, not my child.”

The man, who has name suppression and was living in Christchurch at the time of his arrest, was sentenced to eight months’ home detention and registered as a child sex offender for eight years when he appeared before Judge Gerard Lynch, having pleaded guilty to exposing a young person to indecent material and four counts of possessing objectionable publications.

The man befriended the victim online and sent her sexually-explicit content including child exploitation material, images of himself, and stories he had written between November 1 and 30, 2017.

In a summary of facts presented to the court, police prosecutor Toaiva Hitila said the victim’s mother discovered the messages – which were sent through various social media platforms including Instagram and Snapchat – and alerted police in the US.

“She reported that her daughter had been communicating with an older male, and the contents of that communication were inappropriate … This information was passed on to the New Zealand police for further investigating.”

Police executed a search warrant at the man’s home address on March 27, 2019 – seizing an external hard drive, two iPhones, and two laptops, and forwarding them to the Police Forensic Unit for analysis.

Hitila said 692 images and videos depicting the sexual exploitation of “pre-school to pre-teen” children, were discovered. Twenty of the images were classed as category A, meaning they depicted explicit sexual activity.

Hitila said the man had contributed to the demand for child sexual exploitation material and the “revictimisation” of the children who were abused to create the images and videos.

When questioned by police, the man stated he was “depressed, lonely, and believed he was trying to help”.

“The defendant has not previously appeared before the court.”

Judge Lynch said the man had sought to help the victim by directing her to seek help for her mental health difficulties and teach her to identify and understand online predators.

“This is a distortion that helped him justify his actions. After helping, he exploited her vulnerability for his own sexual gain, further traumatising her,” the judge said.

“The offending occurred over a period of a month, and may have continued for a longer period if not for the timely intervention of [the victim’s] mother who checked her phone.”

Defence lawyer Jay Lovely said the man had been on bail since December 1, 2019, and had not breached his conditions or offended again.

“He’s used the time as well as he could. He got his family back, albeit in an altered form. He’s got a job, one he can go back to once this is over, and engaged with a counsellor,” Lovely said.

“This work he has done is evidence of remorse and is about righting something he has done wrong.”

Judge Lynch acknowledged the man “did not simply sit around and wait for sentencing” after pleading guilty to the charges.

“He took steps to address the core issues amongst the disintegration of his family.”

The man’s motivation to address his “deviancy” reduced his risk of reoffending, Judge Lynch said.

“This will be a long and perhaps life-long journey to keep children safe.”

While police opposed name suppression, Judge Lynch granted it to protect the man’s children from ridicule and harassment which is “amplified” in the “unregulated space” of social media.

“[The Internet] creates an incurable unfairness which could not have been contemplated a decade ago. In a case such as the present, it’s time to recognise these realities,” the judge said.

“The irony is not lost on me that [the man] seeks an order protecting his children from harm online, when he harmed [the victim] online.”

Judge Lynch wished the man “good luck” before adjourning.

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