A 60-year-old granduncle has been sentenced to 16 years and six months imprisonment for raping his 13-year-old niece.
This followed an assessors’ trial last month.
Ioane Peni of Apolima was charged with two counts of rape and three counts of sexual connection.
In handing down the sentence yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren said: “This rape has occurred in a place where this child should be protected and feel protected - her own home.
“A strong message from this sentencing is that this type of predatory behaviour on young children, whether it occurs within a family or outside of the family, will not be tolerated by the Court and the Court will impose stern penalties on those who commit this type of offending.”
Prosecuting the case was Lealofioamoa Mamaia of the Attorney General’s Office, while Tasi Patea represented the defendant.
Justice Tuala-Warren issued a suppression order on the victim, including her details, but is not leveled against her granduncle.
Prior to handing down the sentence, Justice Tuala-Warren expressed disappointment with nonappearance of Mamaia in Court when the matter was initially called for sentencing on Thursday.
“Why were you not present when the matter was called,” asked Justice Tuala-Warren.
Mamaia explained there was a bit of confusion however the Judge did not budge.
“You were present when we scheduled the sentencing date to be held on Thursday, so you cannot tell the Court you were not aware.
“You have wasted the Court’s time and everyone’s time with your nonappearance.”
Prosecutor Mamaia was warned not to let this happen again.
Justice Tuala-Warren pointed out in Court that evidence indicates that sometime between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016, Peni was living with the victim’s family.
“The victim was adopted by the accused’s stepdaughter, but is related to the accused, who is her birth mother’s uncle.
“The accused’s wife died in 2016. The accused and his wife had been together for more than 30 years. The victim was 13 years old in 2016. The victim came to live with the accused and his family when she was about nine years old.”
According to Justice Tuala-Warren, between August and September 2016, the accused would often take the victim and her little brothers to the plantation to collect coconuts.
“On each of those occasions he would send the little brothers further inland to collect coconuts while he would tell the victim to stay with him to husk the coconuts.
“He would then guide the victim to a secluded area, cut some leaves, placed them on the ground and raped her, while she tried pushing him away.”
The defendant told Probation that he could not help his sexual attraction to the victim so he forced her because she refused to have a sexual relationship with him. He expressed his remorse to Probation and through Defence Counsel.
“There is a letter from the Sui o le Nuu of Utualii saying that the accused has been banished from Utualii. It is also confirmed that he has been banished from Apolima-Uta,” pointed out Justice Tuala-Warren.
The aggravating features of this offending, the age of the victim and the age difference of 45 years.
The defendant is an adult, married for more than 30 years, with grown children and immense life experience as opposed to this young girl who was 13 years old at the time.
“It is extremely disturbing that he looked after the victim and her younger brothers from when she was nine years old.
“According to the victim’s own words, ‘ga kausi makou e Ioane’. He took advantage of that position of trust in relation to the victim.”
Another aggravating factor is the magnitude of the breach of any relationship of trust between the victim and the accused.
“It is aggravating that the accused raped the victim twice and attempted to have sexual connection with her. He also performed acts of a sexual nature on her three times. There is a significant degree of premeditation involved in this offending. He took active measures to be alone with the victim by sending her younger brothers away on errands.”
Justice Tuala-Warren noted that rape is an inherently violent act, although there was minimal associated violence in that he forcibly removed her clothes.
According to the victim, she told him to stop and tried to push him away.
“In this case, there is a need to hold the accused accountable for the harm done to the victim, to promote in him a sense of responsibility and an acknowledgment of that harm, and to provide for the interests of the victim who was very young, vulnerable and defenceless at the time.
“There is also an overriding need to deter the accused and others from committing the same or similar offences and to protect the community from the accused.
“This protection is particularly important for children, the most vulnerable members of any community. It is of major concern to the Court that this offending occurred within the sanctuary of a home, committed by a family member on whom this young victim was dependant on.
“Before I impose sentence on the accused, I must comment on an aspect of this case which has saddened me the most.
“After the first incident of rape on this young child, the adoptive mother of the victim became aware of it.
“However the mother did nothing and the rape occurred again and the sexual connection continued. It is a lesson to all those in whom young victims confide. To choose to do nothing is to turn a blind eye to what is happening to our children.”
Justice Tuala-Warren stated that assessing culpability at a relatively high level as the aggravating features are at a relatively serious level.
Sentencing starting point was 20 years imprisonment, however three years and six months was deducted, given the defendant have already suffered village penalties, given his previous good character and his long service to his wife’s family and for the apology and remorse.
Peni was sentenced to 16 years and 6 months in jail.