Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Attempt to have girls testify in child prostitution case

03 August 2005

A 58-year-old man accused of recruiting two child prostitutes wants to have the girls, aged 14 and 16, give evidence in person against him at a preliminary hearing.

Victims of sex crimes in New Zealand are automatically exempted from giving evidence at depositions hearings in a move designed to minimise the distress of going through the court process. Their evidence is admitted in statement form at preliminary hearing, so they only have to give live evidence at trial.

Gerald Lascelles, lawyer for the alleged pimp whose name is suppressed, told the Christchurch District Court the girls did not qualify as victims of sex crimes because they were willing prostitutes.

Prosecutor Rosemary Roberts said the attitude of the girls – one described in court as a P addict and the other as having severe learning difficulties – was irrelevant, and underage girls sometimes had to be "saved from themselves".

Justice of the Peace Lyn Holland, sitting with fellow JP Don Hampton, adjourned a decision on the issue but said it could "change the course of the New Zealand legal system".

The court had heard that the 14-year-old girl had been working as a prostitute on Manchester Street after being asked to leave school the year before for fighting and bullying. Her mother said the teenager began using P and intravenous drugs, committing crimes, and working the streets before starting working for the defendant.

The 16-year-old had allegedly told her mother she was working as a rest home carer when she started working at the defendant's brothel, which operated during the day from a house next door to an inner-city primary school.

Detective James Nisbet told the hearing yesterday that he phoned the house posing as a potential client and a young woman answered the phone.

"It was clear commercial sexual services were being provided at the premises," he said.

Police raided the brothel on February 4 and found the 16-year-old inside, wearing a black see-through dressing gown. She allegedly denied the defendant ran the brothel and nominated another woman.

The two girls' evidence had been put to the court in statement form but Lascelles sought a ruling that they should be able to give live evidence, including fielding questions from him.

"The girls in this case, whose evidence the Crown seeks to produce in written form, are not in fact complainants," he said.

"It's not a trivial matter. It could have quite a big flow-on effects for trials generally. They made no complaint to the police about these incidents. The complaint was made initially by (the 14-year-old's) mother and the girls never made any complaint. These girls were on the streets of Christchurch, plying their wares for a considerable time, unknown to (the defendant)."

He described the argument as a test case. The girls would not necessarily have to give live evidence but would have the option to do so if they chose.

Roberts said the charges – employing underage prostitutes and taking a cut of their earnings – "were obviously offences of a sexual nature".

"They may well be consenting but they are too young. They were 14 and 16 at the time and it's incumbent on (the defendant) to make sure they were over 18," she said.

"It's not necessary for them to bring the complaint themselves. This section (of the Prostitution Reform Act) is to save them from themselves."

The hearing was adjourned for a full decision this month.


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