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Man convicted sex offences against 12-year-old

A 42-year-old man found guilty of having a sexual connection with 12-year-old girl, who was living at his home and attending school, has been sentenced to 18 months in jail. 

Mikaele Petelo, also known as Fomai Petelo, appeared before Supreme Court Justice, Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren, for sentencing on Tuesday. 

Justice Warren issued the victim’s name be suppressed but made it clear this order does not apply to the accused. 

The accused was sentenced on four charges: two counts of having sexual connection with a young person, and two counts of performing an indecent act on a young person.

Justice Warren found him guilty of all four charges after a trial on 3 August 2020. 

“For the accused today (Tuesday), it will be a custodial sentence. Deterrence must be paramount to deter older men from taking advantage of young girls in their families, homes and villages,” Justice Warren told the Court.

“The accused took advantage of this young girl whose parents entrusted into his care to enable her to attend school.”

This is a gross breach of that trust. The ‘nofo aoga’ practice is common in Samoa. 

“It gives parents an opportunity to send their children to better school,” the Judge said. 

“Children are often sent to live with relatives who live close to the school. Parents place the highest trust in those relatives to look after their children as their own, while they attend school. For something like this to happen is unacceptable and appalling.”

According to the Police report, the victim was asleep with her cousins when the defendant entered the bedroom and touched her inappropriately:

“The accused [...] attended school as her parents lived in [a] rural area.” 

The victim was 12 years old when the offending occurred in August 2019. 

Justice Warren said the victim had a hard time giving evidence initially and struggled to compose herself at the beginning. 

The accused is 42 years old and lives in Lauli’i. He works for the Ministry of Health and is the sole breadwinner for his family.

“It is [an] aggravating [circumstance] that the victim was only 12 years old and there is a 29 year age disparity between her and the accused who was 41 years old at the time of the offending,” the Judge said in sentencing remarks handed down on Tuesday. 

“There is a gross breach of trust given that the accused was entrusted by [the victim's] parents to look after her while she lived with his family and attended school. The victim is vulnerable not only by virtue of her young age of 12 years but also because she was living away from her parents for school.

“This sexual offending occurred twice which suggests a level of premeditation on the part of the accused.”

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