A district court judge in New Zealand earlier today (February 1) apologized on behalf of all New Zealanders to a French tourist, 23, who was sexually assaulted last year. Judge James Weir made the apology in open court after Stuart Maru Harris, 28, had been found guilty of abduction and sexual assault.
In his apology, Judge Weir said: “New Zealand citizens feel very strongly about this sort of offense, which besmirches our reputation as a friendly country where people can come in safety. No one should have to go through this trauma and ordeal,” he told the victim.
According to court testimony, Harris had picked up the victim while she was hitchhiking in Taupo, but instead of offering to drop her off in Napier as he had told her, he drove her to a wooded area, locked the car and engaged in sexual assault, including oral sex.
The defense characterized that what happened between Harris and the victim was nothing more than a “sex-for-travel deal." Additionally, Harris' attorney countered that there had been no violence, the two had shared a cigarette after the “incident” and the woman had been able to walk away from Harris, not locked in his car trunk or dumped on the roadside.
COMMENT: The judge also asked the French tourist to prepare a victim impact statement specifically addressing the emotional harm she had suffered as a result of her ordeal. Harris is scheduled for sentencing on April 5. This incident will be updated as information becomes available.
Even though Harris was charged with more serious offenses, only eleven members of the jury were unanimous on such charges. Yet, there were unanimous guilty verdicts on charge of unlawful sexual connection and indecent assault.
Weir also told jurors that Harris had eight pages of previous criminal convictions, including a lengthy jail term for intentionally causing grievous bodily harm.
In terms of reducing one's exposure to unnecessary risk, hitchhiking at home or abroad increases the risk of being victimized, whether it be robbery, assault or worse. Hence, hitchhiking as a normal means of getting from point A to point B is strongly discouraged.
I am often asked by groups: What countries are "safe" these day? Unfortunately, there are no "safe" countries, largely because of crime spikes almost everywhere and the fact that many travelers contribute to their own victimization by making bad choices and not reducing their security vulnerabilities.