How we respond to the Wellington College issue IS the issue

How we respond to the Wellington College issue IS the issue



We were saddened to hear about the harmful comments  in private facebook groups involving Wellington College students this week.

To the rangatahi wāhine of Wellington and others who may feel unsafe in light of these comments, we are so sorry, that you have to hear them, defend yourselves for feeling unsafe and protest at all. Our society has failed you. We wish this never happened in the first place and we acknowledge your resilience and bravery.

We applaud the openness of Wellington College to work with the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network, who will bring their excellent specialised skills to support the school to address these harmful attitudes.

Rape Prevention Education works in the Auckland region and delivers workshops on healthy relationships and consent to on average 2000 students per year. There are many organisations around the country providing sexual violence prevention education in school environments, including delivering ACC’s Mates and Dates programme which addresses sexual and dating violence. Growing and resourcing this work will support young people and the adults around them to build skills on consent and help to address harmful behaviours.

It is important to understand that young people have many factors around them which may influence their behaviour, including pornography, social media, alcohol, films, television,  and advertising. However responses to the comments that excuse, minimise, justify or dismiss the behaviour based on any of these influences collude with that very behaviour.

We need to give young people the information they deserve, with clear expectations and skills to make safe decisions for themselves and others as they navigate through the world. How we follow through with our part in this is as big an issue as the harmful comments made in the first place.

For further comment or information please contact Debbi Tohill, Executive Director, Rape Prevention Education on 021 568013.


When sexual violence and harmful sexual behviour are hot topics in the media it can bring up memories or feelings for people about any experiences they might have had. If you want to talk to someone or get help find, there is services nationwide that you can call. Check out this list here.

Why do we still try to control how teenage girls dress?

By Rose Hoare for New Zealand Herald, 10:00 AM Saturday Apr 23, 2016:

Should skirt lengths matter? Rose Hoare talks to students, parents and teachers about the politics of how teenage girls dress.

Photo / iStock

Photo / iStock

Last month on Instagram, Kim Kardashian West posted a year-old picture of herself standing naked in her marble bathroom, with the caption: “When you’re like I have nothing to wear LOL”. The post received more than 250,000 likes and 130,000 retweets.

Then Rowan Blanchard, star of Disney’s Girl Meets World, weighed in. “I think that is an awesome thing 2 teach girls,” she tweeted. “To be accepting of yourself and use the selfie to choose how you want to be viewed & to try to gain control of your own image: something girls have never had (or control in general)”.

Rowan Blanchard is 14 years old.

Is sharing a naked picture on the internet “an awesome thing 2 teach girls”? Many people over a certain age would say “hell no”, but Blanchard’s response is typical of a generation of young girls who – thanks to social media – are well-versed in feminist theory and not particularly interested in your opinions about how they should dress. And nowhere is this truer than at school, one of the major places where this generational schism plays out.

Classrooms have become battlegrounds where dress code wars are fought. Earlier this month, Henderson High called 40 Year 11 students to a meeting where they were told their uniform skirts were deemed too short. The reaction was swift, with teenage girls outraged that they and their knees were being blamed for “distracting” the boys.

Many criticised the school on Facebook. Sample comment: “Oh dear, the old thinking is still out there. Come on people, we need to give our sons and fathers a bit more credit than that.”

In America, schools have banned or regulated short shorts, tank tops, miniskirts, leggings, yoga pants, skinny jeans, crop tops and halter tops, removing girls from class, handing out detentions (in one school, these were 90 per cent female) or making students change into a “shame suit” designed to humiliate its wearer.

Again, in most cases, the explanation given is that tight, brief or revealing clothing is “distracting” for male students and teachers. Cue staged walkouts by young female students, “Crop Top Tuesdays” and organised protests under the social media hashtag #iammorethanadistraction.

At Western Springs College, one of the only mufti high schools in Auckland, a Young Feminists group formed after some students felt that a female teacher was enforcing the school’s dress code in a way that discriminated against girls with big breasts.

Matilda Boese-Wong (18), who was in the group but has since left school, says being told you’re a distraction to boys is unfair. “It’s not my fault I’m sexualised to that point. And if it’s not fair, you’ve got to do something about it.”

The dress code was revised after negotiation with school management and parents. A couple of months later, when a Year 11 girl was cited for dressing inappropriately, it was amended again.

“She thought it was because she was not wearing a bra,” Boese-Wong says, “but it was because she was wearing a T-shirt that was cut low at the sides, so if you were looking from the side, you could pretty much see her boobs. I do think that, for a learning environment, that’s probably a little bit much.”

Western Springs’ dress code now states that clothing should be “appropriate for all school-related occasions”, that anything “immodest, ripped or that has offensive messages” is not acceptable, and that figuring out what’s appropriate is “part of the education process”.

The most controversial item of clothing currently popular with this great country’s teens appears to be what Western Springs’ associate principal Ivan Davis describes as “really revealing shorts that reveal butt cheeks” or what fashion marketers call “cheeky shorts” that reveal “underbutt”. Singer Miley Cyrus and reality television personality Kylie Jenner are fervent fans.

Why do teens wear booty shorts to school? Maybe it’s because they want to be sexy. Being physically attractive is a rare source of power for young females. Or maybe they just like the way it looks.

“Sometimes it’s just that a trend at the time is this item of clothing that just happens to be quite revealing,” says Boese-Wong. “I do get that those trends come from companies who are basically contributing to the sexualisation of young girls, [but] for a lot of teenagers – boys and girls – fashion is a huge way of expressing yourself. Sometimes it’s nothing to do with wanting to be sexual. My style is something I care about a lot and I’ll wear an outfit that might be revealing, but I’m not wearing it for that reason.”

“Normally when they’re confronted, they’re quite shocked,” Davis says. “This is the teenage brain: it just doesn’t occur to them.”

Beyond the safety of the school grounds, many parents fear that if their teen wears revealing clothing, they’ll attract the attention of sexual predators. It’s an understandable fear, but not one grounded in the reality of sexual violence in New Zealand, where one in three girls will be sexually assaulted by the age of 16. A young person is far more likely to be assaulted by a trusted adult or relative, or even a classmate – New Zealand research estimates 90 per cent of sexual violence is committed by someone known to the victim. How they’re dressed is not a contributing factor.

“The reality is that sexual assault is caused by the attacker’s power and control issues, rather than uncontrollable sexual urges due to stimulation because of what the person is wearing,” says Debbi Tohill, director of Rape Prevention Education.

Tohill says parents worried about protecting their kids from sexual violence should talk to both sons and daughters about what consent means, and make sure they understand that everyone is responsible for their own sexual responses.

There is one good reason for schools and parents to give careful consideration to what teenage girls wear to school. In the late 1990s, scientists performed an experiment where students were asked to put on a swimsuit, then do a maths test.

The male students said they felt silly, awkward and foolish. Some could be heard laughing from the changing room. Their performances on the maths test were unaffected.

The females reported feeling disgusted, angry and ashamed. Although alone in the changing room, they still somehow felt “on display”. Their performances in the test were significantly decreased.

The scientists theorised that women are socialised to objectify their own bodies, and that this “self-objectification” taxes their attention span and mental resources: girls can’t concentrate fully if they’re worrying about how they look and, in a culture that puts undue emphasis on appearance, worrying about how you look isn’t a choice, it’s a survival skill.

This is the world we’ve made for our girls. It could be part of why girls’ maths ability appears to decline around puberty. And it’s why, perhaps, teenage girls ought to be discouraged from wearing notably body-revealing clothes to school. Not because it’s distracting for males, but because it’s distracting for themselves.

The American Psychology Association, which researches the sexualisation of young girls, has some supremely practical suggestions for parents worried about their daughter’s outfits.

First, if you see youth-focused brands putting undue value on sexiness, call it out. Teach your kids to be enlightened consumers who are mindful of sexualisation.

Second, teach boys “that girls deserve dignity and respect, no matter what they wear”, and expect that they can and should control the urge to perve.

And if you want to question what your teenage daughter wears to school, don’t focus on what it will do to boys or how she will be perceived by others. Instead, ask her whether her clothes are going to be comfortable enough for everything she wants to do today.

What teenagers and their mothers really think

Nganeko Newman (14), a student at Western Springs College, and mum Royala Newman, a social worker.

Nganeko Newman and her mother, Royala Newman. Photo / Getty Images
Nganeko Newman and her mother, Royala Newman. Photo / Getty Images

NGANEKO: I wear really basic stuff. I go to Glassons and Cotton On and malls to look for anything comfortable. It’s gotta be black or white.

If I wanted to impress someone, I’d probably just wear black skinny jeans or my black jumpsuit that I wore for school prizegiving.

I change my style quite a lot. I wear tight, cropped halter singlets with trackpants or a denim skirt and Converse shoes or some Superstars. I like tight stuff but I make sure it doesn’t look too …

Mum will give her honest opinion and if it doesn’t suit, she’ll tell me.

She’ll say, “You look a bit summery,” or “You look like you just rolled out of bed.” I kind of understand.

I went to McDonalds and there was a girl and she had shorts [with buttock crease visible], and my friend went up to her and said: “Your shorts.” And she went: “Yeah?”

“We can see your bum.”

“Yeah?” We just told her ’cause we thought she didn’t realise. But she did! She knew! We went: “Do you want people to see it?”

And she went, like, “Yeah!”

This year, a lot of girls are self-conscious about being fat. They’ll go swimming, but in a big T-shirt or whatever. We had a class swim and the ones who thought they were quite big sat out and got really upset. I hate it when people feel bad about themselves.

ROYALA: I haven’t really been too strict on what [Nganeko] wears, because I already know what clothes she has, anyway.

There were some really short shorts that bothered me. I saw quite a few of those at her school last winter. She’s allowed to wear them around home or if she went to her mate’s house, but not to school. I guess it’s because she’s travelling from here to town to Western Springs and there’s quite a lot of people in that space, so I wouldn’t want anybody checking her out.

It’s more a safety thing. I feel insecure for her, and protective.

I try to make her change and I usually go and moan about it with her dad. He usually just says, “I don’t know. You’re the woman.”

Xanthe Brookes (16), a student at Green Bay High School, and mum Jeni Little, a music teacher there.

Xanthe Brooks, wearing the vintage 1980s dress she bought on Trade Me to wear at her school ball, and her mother, Jeni Little. Picture / Jason Oxenham
Xanthe Brooks, wearing the vintage 1980s dress she bought on Trade Me to wear at her school ball, and her mother, Jeni Little. Picture / Jason Oxenham

XANTHE: We got this letter a while ago about how no one was following the dress code. There were three lines of rules for girls and one line for boys. But all the teachers say different things. Some say it’s distracting; some say it’s so we
can have a more professional environment.

But people are still just wearing trackpants and exercise clothes, which don’t reflect professionalism at all.

I get my sense of style from my mum – she lived in the Cook Islands and wears lots of influences from cultures with non-Western beauty ideals – and from female musicians.

I like watching couture shows. The fashion industry is so interesting. I follow lots of cool designers on Instagram. Having lots of different sources to take influences from means you’re not restricted to one standard. If you’re exposed to a narrow set of media, you’re going to have a warped idea of what’s beautiful and what’s sexual.

A lot of people see an image they think is sexy so they’ll buy all these things to try to fit it, even though it doesn’t suit them. It’s like when you get a haircut and you take in a picture but obviously they can’t make it look exactly like the picture.

You see people change [as they get exposed to more]. In Year 9, they’ll come in looking like everyone else, wanting to feel like everyone else, but by Year 11, they’ll have listened to different music and stuff and changed their outlook on fashion. Intermediate was where I felt more societal pressures but by high school I felt more in control of my fashion.

I play roller derby, and that helps. It’s lots of strong women in training bras, all different weights, and they don’t care because their body is doing what they need it to do. It’s one of the only things that I’ve ever found that’s made me want to be bigger, to have more muscle. Also, going to gigs and seeing female musicians just being totally okay with sweating.

JENI: Xanthe’s generation have fantastic body confidence. They don’t spend a lot of time hating parts of themselves. That’s quite a joy to see, because it was a lot different when I was a teen.

In Year 9, she probably did her hair every morning with the straighteners. Now, she’s happy just to get up and go.


Debbi Tohill Welcomed as RPE’s New Executive Director


Debbi Tohill, Executive Director at RPE


The Board of Trustees of Rape Prevention Education – Whakatu Mauri is pleased to announce the appointment of Debbi Tohill as the organization’s new Executive Director.  Debbi has had a long involvement with RPE as a Board member, serving two terms as Chair, and taking the role of Acting Executive for the last six months.

Debbi has over 20 years’ experience in the not-for-profit and public sector mainly in the mental health and addictions area and has had involvement in a number of health promotion and prevention initiatives. Debbi brings a strengths-based approach to organisational development and a wealth of experience in workforce development, training and research.

“I am excited about joining the RPE team. I am a strong advocate of educating young people to ensure they have respectful relationships and are able to make informed choices around consent.  I look forward to reinvigorating RPE’s portfolio of professional education training.”

Debbi is also passionate about ensuring good services and support are available to victims of sexual assault and looks forward to continuing to work collaboratively with government and non-government organisations who support survivors.

The Board would also like to announce that Debbie Wiesehan, previous co-chair has taken on the chair role with Diana Vao as Vice-chair.


RPE staff at their 2015 AGM.


RPE is looking for an Executive Director!

Rape Prevention Education Whakatu Mauri (RPE) works in the greater Auckland area and nationally to prevent sexual violence through:

  • The delivery of health promotion/prevention programmes,
  • influencing policy and systems to support all those affected by sexual violence
  • promoting respectful sexual relationships, and
  • research and evaluation.

RPE works with Tangata Whenua and other allied community organisations and professionals to develop community services, education programmes, health promotion, research and advocacy.

We are looking for an Executive Director to lead our organisation. In this role, you will be responsible for:

  • Effective management of RPE including providing support and direction to staff in delivery of best practice prevention activities, and the professional oversight of prevention activities,
  • Strategic leadership of the organisation
  • Advocacy for sexual violence prevention, including in public forums, the media and to government agencies and funders, and
  • Implementing RPE’s Treaty & bicultural development strategy

To be successful in this role you will have:

  • Demonstrated strategic leadership ability
  • NGO Management experience at a senior level
  • Demonstrated competence in managing a team/small organisation, preferably in the NGO sector
  • Extensive knowledge and experience in the primary prevention of violence (particularly sexual violence)
  • Experience in developing and providing evidence-based prevention education programmes
  • Public speaking, communication and networking: a demonstrated ability to represent RPE in multiple forums
  • Expertise in working with government and not for profit sector organisations and networks
  • Competence in bicultural development and Treaty-based organisations, and working and engaging diverse cultures
  • Ability to work with Government departments and form relationships with Government officials and MPs to influence government policy.

For complete job description, or further information, please email

Please submit your CV and covering letter by 30 September, 2015 to:



A powerful video by Villainesse. “In a culture where rape survivors blame themselves for the criminal actions of their rapists, where young people aren’t sure what constitutes consent, where intimate photographs are shared online, and where a group of young men can form a club called the ‘Roastbusters’ and get away with it, we need to have some open and honest conversations.”

Sex slave terror: A tale of two women

By Kristina Rapley for Women’s Day, Wednesday September 9, 2015:


Sex slave terror: A tale of two women

Theirs is an unlikely friendship. Greta Gregory is a 22-year-old Auckland actress and Heather Walsh, a 49-year-old mother-of-six, who works as an advocate for survivors of sexual violence.

While Greta went to drama school and acts for a living, Heather acted her way through life for 23 years, hiding a deep, dark secret.

That secret was uncovered in June 2012, when Heather won the right to have her name suppression lifted. By doing so, she exposed William Cornelius, the man who kept a then 19-year-old Heather as a sex slave over the winter of 1985 on his remote farm in the Mangatiti Valley, near Raetihi.

Now Heather’s story of survival is among some of New Zealand’s most dramatic true stories being brought to life in a series of four one-off dramas on TVNZ’s Sunday Theatre.

In The Monster of Mangatiti, which screened on September 6 on TV One, audiences will see how Heather, played by Greta, was lured into a live-in tutor job on Cornelius’ farm, with no inkling of the living nightmare about to unfold.

After weeks of grooming by Cornelius, then 52, Heather consented to sex once, regretting it immediately and telling him it was a mistake. But the months that followed saw Heather endure endless threats, and horrific physical and psychological abuse, including rape, then pregnancy and miscarriage.

Narrated by Heather, the docu-drama is inter-cut with first-person interviews, detailing her attempts to escape, as well as her decision to take her attacker through the courts 23 years later.

The case, which uncovered more victims who faced horrific abuse at the hands of Cornelius, spanned four years and ended with him being let off the charges as he had mild dementia and was therefore deemed “unfit” to stand trial. He has since died.

Time to speak up

Following her escape, Heather eventually married and raised a family, but she says the guilt, shame and fear she carried for so long became too much to bear. “What he did was wrong and I needed to do something about it, to break my silence and bring him to justice,” she tells.

When the trial finished in 2012, Heather was approached by director Philly de Lacey, who floated the idea of making the docu-drama for Screentime NZ.

“It was important to me that the story wasn’t over-dramatised and was truthful, so the fact that they wanted my involvement was great,” explains Heather, who has remained in touch with Philly over the past two years while they secured funding.

“I am actually really pleased it took this long to happen because it has given me time to process, to heal and to come a lot further along from what I’ve been through.”

While Heather still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, she’s making progress and her work helping other victims of sexual violence is hugely rewarding.

Actress Greta admits she had major concerns about playing Heather in the dark and dramatic re-enactment.

“I knew it was going to be tough, but from the first moment I read the brief, I realised it was such an important story to tell,” she says.

Greta spoke to Heather over the phone before shooting began and admits she was nervous about making a good impression on the woman she was about to play.

“She was so nice, though, and really only interested in making sure I was going to be OK. She was really pleased when I told her that I’d decided to move out of my flat and move back in with my parents during filming, just for that emotional stability and support.”

Heather admits she was also nervous. “I did worry. I wanted to make sure that whoever they picked could handle it and to make sure they had enough support,” she says.

But the pair needn’t have been concerned. Reuniting for our Woman’s Day photo shoot, Heather and Greta get on like a house on fire, with Greta having had a unique insight into what Heather endured all those years ago.

“You got off lightly,” Heather teases, having recently watched the final product. “You were a lot cleaner than I was, let me tell you!”

“That’s the thing,” Greta agrees, “what I went through filming was zero compared to what Heather went through, absolutely zero. But it did help me understand better what something like that would be like.”

Most of the filming took place over two weeks on a farm in Bethells Beach on the West Coast of Auckland and Heather visited the set a couple of times. Heather says it was odd watching the filming of some of the scenes, but not as disturbing as you’d expect.

“They did a great job at recreating the surroundings and characters, but to me, it wasn’t real. What you will see on screen is actually nothing compared to what I endured, which was a lot worse than what they can show on TV,” Heather points out.

“I know for me, before I spoke out, hearing of stories similar to mine was extremely beneficial. It made me feel less alone. So that’s my hope with this, that it will help other survivors and possibly prevent things like this happening in the first place.”

To read the full article, click HERE.

Louise Nicholas to receives her Queen’s Birthday honours

Neil Ratley for The Dominion Post, Monday 7 September, 2015:

Louise Nicholas to receive her Queen’s Birthday honour

Rape survivors’ advocate Louise Nicholas will officially be made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) on Tuesday.

Nicholas will receive the honour for services to the prevention of sexual violence from Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae at an investiture ceremony at Government House.

The long-time advocate for sexual violence victims was rewarded with the ONZM in the Queen’s Birthday honours in June.

Nicholas rose to national prominence when she claimed that, as a vulnerable teenager in Rotorua, she was raped by four policemen.

Her decision to go public with her story and seek accountability for what happened to her saw her battle through five court cases.

The accused officers were eventually acquitted, but her case rocked the justice system to the core and, after a 2007 commission of inquiry, senior police were forced to confront how the force treated sexual violence victims.

Speaking ahead of the ceremony, Nicholas said it was going to be a very special day, which she would be sharing with her family.

The honour was also for all survivors and victims of sexual violence, she said.

“The award is recognition that finally the voices of victims of sexual violence are being heard. It’s for my colleagues and my survivors. There are many many of us receiving this award.”

It had been a “hard slog”, but she had taken heart from the great strides being made by the Law Commission and the Justice Ministry and their ongoing work into reviewing pre-trial and trial processes for sexual violence cases, she said.

The court system has came under fire for traumatising sexual offence victims who give evidence.

It would also be great to catch up with Sir Jerry again, Nicholas said. She was named as the Governor-General’s Anzac of the Year in April.

Others to receive their awards later this week will include Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum and coach Mike Hesson.


Read the full story, HERE.



From 3News, Tuesday 8 September, 2015:

Govt honour for Louise Nicholas

Rape survivors’ advocate Louise Nicholas has been honoured this morning for services towards the prevention of sexual violence.

She was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit at Government House after being named on the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Ms Nicholas became a household name after claiming she was raped as a teenager by four policemen.

The officers were acquitted at trial but the case led to a shake-up of how police handle sexual violence complaints.

Ms Nicholas credits her father-in-law Lin, who was there to support her today, for her decision to go public with her story.


Read the full story, and view video, HERE.



Jessy Edwards for The Dominion Post, Tuesday 8 September, 2015:

Louise Nicholas receives her Queen’s Birthday honour

“Beautifully crazy” were the words rape survivors’ advocate Louise Nicholas used to describe the feeling of getting a Queen’s honour today.

Nicholas was officially made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for services to the prevention of sexual violence, receiving the honour from Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae at a ceremony at Government House on Tuesday.

Speaking afterwards, she said she never dreamed of being recognised so formally.

“The day I stood in front of the nation and told them what had gone on in my life, I would never have guessed in a million years I’d be standing here today.

“On 30th January 2004, the promise I made to everyone out there was that what happened to me will never happen to anyone else, and I will fight until my last breath. And to be recognised today is crazy. It is crazy, beautiful.”

Nicholas rose to national prominence when she claimed that, as a teenager in Rotorua, she was raped by four policemen.

Her decision to go public with her story and seek accountability for what happened saw her battle through five court cases.

The accused officers were eventually acquitted, but her case rocked the justice system to the core and, after a 2007 commission of inquiry, senior police were forced to confront how officers treated sexual violence victims.

Listening to her achievements listed at the ceremony, she was reflecting on her family, Nicholas said.

“I was actually thinking of my father-in-law because if it wasn’t for him asking me what my problem was all those years ago, I wouldn’t be standing here today, and also my mum who passed away in 2008 and the courage she showed in supporting me.

“And my husband Ross – what he’s been through. If I was him I would have buggered off years ago, because I’m hard work,” she laughed.

Nicholas was awarded her honour alongside police Detective Superintendent Andrew Lovelock, who was receiving honours for services to New Zealand Police and the community.

She acknowledged the juxtaposition between herself and a police officer receiving the same award at the same time.

“When I walked into the room and saw Andy Lovelock there receiving the same award as my own … I said, we’ve gone full circle.

“We now have the survivors we support saying that the police are doing an amazing job … Would that have been said ten years ago?”

She was also congratulated by police Commissioner Mike Bush – who she calls ‘Mikey B’ – and said it was special to have him there.

Mateparae gave Nicholas specially acknowledgement apart from the rest in his closing speech, noting that he doesn’t “normally single out an individual”.

Nicholas said she was touched.

“He’s just such a beautiful human being. To have an acknowledgement from the highest order is pretty special.”

Nicholas was named as the Governor-General’s Anzac of the Year in April.

Others to receive their awards later this week will include Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum and coach Mike Hesson.


Read the full story, and view video, HERE.

Heather Walsh’s tale of survival is told

From Kelly Dennett for, 30 August, 2015:

Heather Walsh’s tale of survival is told

After sharing painful details of the months of sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of The Monster of Mangatiti, Heather Walsh’s parting words are succinct. “I just want people to stop raping people. It’s really that simple.”

“Just stop it. The world will be a better place,” she says.

Heather is sitting in an inner city hotel, discussing her past with three strangers. One of them is a man, a Fairfax photographer. The situation is a huge turnaround for Walsh. “I’m working full time and hopping on planes now. I mean, sitting here with a strange man in my room, all those things I could never, ever do before”.

She quickly offers a “no offence” to the photographer, who is sitting on the floor due to a lack of chairs. “And I’m not happy about you having to kneel either!”

Walsh is kind. She frequently apologises for how tired she feels, and gracefully declines to speak about her family and what she does in her spare time – de rigueur for Sunday profiles. “I don’t really want to be personal, there’s enough personal stuff…if that’s okay.”

To say there’s enough personal stuff is an understatement. Her life, 23 weeks of it in particular, has already been picked apart. In the initial police questioning and the ensuing 27 court hearings. In interviews with the media and even interviews she didn’t do with the media. Google her name and the first search result is the headline Woman ‘kept as sex slave’.

Heather understands the attention, saying her story is “unusual” in some ways. “In other ways it’s very common.” Next week it will be immortalised yet again on the small screen in the docudrama The Monster of Mangatiti. It’s a glimpse at what happened during her months in captivity. Rapes, beatings, cruelty. It’s difficult to watch. (“Jeez, yeah, um, it’s not for children. Make sure you have support,” she says.)

In 1985 a teenaged Heather answered an ad for a live-in tutor. She thought she was embarking on an adventure. It was back country New Zealand. Nothing but beautiful bush and birdsong. Wild animals were the only habitants in the Mangatiti Valley, near the central North Island town of Raetihi, and one William Paul Cornelius.

Cornelius and his son lived in a shack a 30 mile trek from nearby town, Raetihi, south west of the Tongariro National Park. The drive to the ramshackle hut was pockmarked by locked gates, dense bush and precarious gorges. The ‘driveway’ was a private track, set an hour away from the main road. So remote was the location it was literally impossible to walk away from.

Her stay went fine, at first. Cornelius was nice, the kid was sweet and Heather could mail her parents regularly, or so she thought. Although there were some chores involved and no electricity, the country was beautiful, she thought.

The abuse started after a one-off consensual sexual encounter with Cornelius. After that he insisted the pair be together and he moved her into his room. She was repetitively raped, and fell pregnant, later miscarrying after a violent sexual assault.

Daily chores turned into slavery. Food had to be on the table when Cornelius returned from hunting. He claimed she was overweight and made her run laps around the farm. He slaughtered healthy animals in front of her as a warning, and destroyed letters from her family, isolating her further.

Eventually she summoned the courage to leave, stealing the opportunity to drive away in his ute while he was hunting. For years she hid, fearful he would make good on promises to kill her. She married and had six children but after the sudden death of her husband in 1998 she no longer felt protected. She went to police with her story in 2008.

There were other victims. Cornelius was charged with rape, abduction and unlawful sexual connection in 2009, the charges later increasing to span hundreds of rapes alleged by four victims. Three others were known to police but they declined to lay formal complaints. Four years and 27 hearings later the case against Cornelius was dismissed after he was deemed unfit to stand trial because of mild dementia. The mild part is something Heather is keen to emphasise. “I feel it’s important, as the general public understands dementia to be a very debilitating condition to be in, which he was not.”

Judge David Cameron said “on the balance of probabilities” Cornelius was likely guilty. Cornelius died months later, aged 79 and in the same hut where he had terrorised his victims.

Not long after, a production company contacted Heather with an idea. Although survivors of sexual abuse typically aren’t named in court cases to protect their anonymity, Heather had applied to have her suppression lifted, so she could talk openly about her case. When Screentime came calling she wasn’t surprised.

“It’s an unusual story,” she says. “I thought it would be something that people would think was interesting.”

It’s one thing to tell your own story, and another to have others tell it for you, no? Yes, it was a huge gamble, she says. “They’re creating a story that has only lived in your head because you were the only one there. You, and the other person.”

“I suppose I went into it with an open mind and thought well, I’ll see how I feel and if they’re going to portray it with the messages that I would want to be told – with that integrity – and that they weren’t going to use it as something to shock people.”

Now working as an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse, Heather says it was important to make a film not about rape, but survival. In sharing her story, she hopes others will see that recovery is possible, and it’s okay to speak out. “It’s about adversity, it’s about those challenges and how you best manage those as an individual.”

She’s “good” now, she says, unable to offer too much more but the basics. She struggled with complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but therapy has given her the tools to move forward. She works full time and is often in court with survivors. She doesn’t want to reveal where she’s living but her spare time is filled with her friends and family. She still loves the outdoors.

Later, she emails more thoughts. “There seems to be a general public belief that survivors of sexual abuse are able to put it all behind them and move on. I don’t find this to be true at all. Survivors don’t move on, leaving the abuse in the past. It stays with you as you move forward, but with specialised help and support you learn to live with it in a healthy way where it doesn’t sabotage your future.”

Others have noticed a difference in Heather since the case was closed. “The person she is now is incredibly different,” says The Monster of Mangatiti’s executive producer Philly de Lacey, who met Heather immediately following the trial’s dismissal. “By then she was absolutely exhausted. (Now) she’s smiling. She’s in control of her life.”

Through Screentime, de Lacey says she’s accustomed to dealing with difficult subject matters. The company has produced Beyond the Darklands where psychologist Nigel Latta profiled the country’s most notorious killers, and in recent weeks it has aired Sunday Theatre dramas How to Murder your Wife, and Venus and Mars – both true New Zealand crime stories.

Hearing of Walsh’s story as it went through court, de Lacey said it struck her as “bizarre…that something like that could happen in New Zealand and that somebody had been able to carry on this behaviour over so many years.”

Heather narrates the drama, devised from interviews with producers. She was generous with her time, de Lacey says, offering them full access to her court files and detailed “frank” admissions. Heather’s story gave de Lacey nightmares, she says.

“Mentally, she was absolutely trapped. I think when people hear stories of domestic violence people can be quite glib and say ‘why couldn’t she just leave?’ (but) I think you can tell in this story, when you’re psychologically beaten down, you can’t just leave.”

De Lacey flew over Mangatiti during filming and describes its remoteness as “phenomenal”. Actual filming took place at West Auckland’s Bethell’s Beach, at Clevedon in east Auckland, and Raetihi. Heather was invited on set for two days where she met the actors. A counsellor was on hand and de Lacey says she felt so nervous she asked a crew member to tie his long silver hair back- fearful his likeness to Cornelius would be too much.

Heather has only seen the final version once, accompanied by de Lacey and a counsellor. It was “surreal” and nerve wracking for her, but she’s pleased with the result having helped ensure the script’s accuracy. Although Walsh never saw justice in the true sense of the word, in the country’s courtrooms, she says that’s not what it’s about for her.

“I don’t really feel that this is a story about justice. I think it’s about telling my truth. It’s one individual telling their own survival story, I don’t see that has anything to do with justice. You’re sharing something that happened to you in the hope that it may help others along the way.”

The Monster of Mangatiti airs on September 6, on TV One.



Read the full article, and view video, HERE.

Victim of sex attacks relives ordeal

From Laurel Stowell for Whanganui Chronicle, Tuesday September 1, 2015:

Victim of sex attacks relives ordeal

One of at least seven women subjected to sexual violence by a cowboy figure of the remote Whanganui River tells her story on television on Sunday night.

The Monster of Mangatiti is the 70-minute saga of Heather Walsh’s treatment by William “Bill” Cornelius in the Mangatiti Valley during five months in 1985.

The programme could be shocking, and police have warned Mr Cornelius’ other known victims that it will be shown.

Cornelius faced 22 charges, including rape and abduction, in Whanganui District Court in June 2012. Fourteen of the charges related to Mrs Walsh’s time in the Mangatiti Valley.

Victims of sexual abuse always have their names suppressed, but Mrs Walsh asked to have her name suppression lifted because she wanted people to know what Cornelius was like.

She told a Chronicle court reporter at the time he had used his home against “so many young women”.

“In that way the girls who ride their horses in the valley or go down there will be warned,” she said.

She has spent years recovering from the 1985 ordeal but was now “in control of her life”, according to the programme’s executive producer Philly de Lacey.

Mrs Walsh is now working with another sexual abuse survivor, Louise Nicholas, as an advocate for victims.

Ms de Lacey was intrigued by the Cornelius case when she heard about it. She contacted Mrs Walsh, who agreed to tell her story of survival hoping it would help other people.

Heather was a teenager when she got the job of tutor to Cornelius’ son.

She was taken to his hut in the Mangatiti Valley, leaving Murumuru Rd on a vehicle track through 12km of dense bush. From the road end it is at least another 40km to Raetihi.

Cornelius was charming and treated her “incredibly well” at first.

“He was grooming her for later on,” Ms de Lacey said.

Then came rapes, starvation, and threats of torture and death.

The young woman became pregnant, but miscarried. Finally she escaped by stealing a utility while Cornelius and a friend were out hunting.

The Monster of Mangatiti is narrated by her, and acted by others. It screens on Sunday at 8.30pm on TV1, as part of the Sunday Theatre season.

The programme was filmed from December 2014 to March this year, and used information from Mrs Walsh, and from police and court files. Some footage was shot in the Raetihi area, but most was filmed in rural south Auckland.

“We’ve spoken to a lot of people and we had researchers in Raetihi,” Ms de Lacey said.

The film crew never went to Cornelius’ house but they flew over and saw it from the air. They had also seen it on television.

His remote farming venture was profiled on Country Calendar in the early 1980s. The Holmes show was back later in the decade, when Cornelius was having a feud with neighbours.

The Monster of Mangatiti crew already knew some of the stories of the backblocks Ruatiti Valley. They had made a show about the disappearance of Lionel Russell from nearby Mangapurua Valley in 1975, after talking to Cornelius’ nephew.

When she heard how Cornelius had kept women captive, Ms de Lacey wondered how such a thing could happen in New Zealand.

The isolation of the place was one answer.

“It allowed him to hold those women in a very vulnerable position. It was an environment that he controlled.”

Another was the effect of psychological abuse.

“What really intrigued me about this case is that it explores the psychological breakdown of a victim – he was a master manipulator. You could ask why she didn’t just leave, but it’s not that simple.

“We’ve got a massive issue with domestic violence in New Zealand. The film, hopefully, goes some way to explain it from a victim’s point of view.”

It took four years from Mrs Walsh’s approach to police in 2008 to get the charges brought against Cornelius. By that time he was 79, and suffering from early stage dementia.

Judge David Cameron decided he was mentally unfit for trial but that, on the balance of probabilities, there was enough evidence to find he committed the offences he was charged with.

He was allowed to return to his remote valley, under supervision, and died there a few months later.


Read the full article, HERE.


Heather’s story “The Monster of Mangatiti” premieres on TV1, Sunday 6 September, 2015.

Sexual violence in schools a ‘countrywide issue’

By Lauren Priestley for, Wednesday September 2, 2015:

Sexual violence in schools a ‘countrywide issue’

Sexual allegations involving Opotiki College students – including an “online component” – surfaced this week, and police have launched an investigation.

There has been no indication the alleged offending occurred at the school or involved school staff, police said.

It comes after the 2013 Roast Busters scandal involving a group of West Auckland students using Facebook to brag about their sexual exploits with intoxicated, often underage girls. One was as young as 13.

Dr McGregor said it was a huge problem, with about one in four girls and one in eight boys affected by sexual violence in New Zealand before they hit their teens.

“Rather than stigmatise Opotiki or even West Auckland where the Roast Busters were, I think it’s important the public know that probably every school in the country is dealing with sexual violence whether they know it or not,” Dr McGregor said.

“It’s so hard for people to disclose sexual violence … I’m feeling for the young people and their families, who are affected by sexual violence, they’ll be going through a very, very difficult time at the moment.”

She said progress had been made since the Roast Busters case – including more police training, Government lobbying and sexual prevention pilot programmes introduced in many schools nationwide – but there was still more to be done.

It was important for young people to be taught about their rights and responsibilities as well as how to negotiate consent, Dr McGregor said.

Social media was a danger, with sexual violence films being easily uploaded online – but it also meant more young people could speak out, she said.

“We know that young people don’t usually report to counsellors or police, and often they don’t report to their families first. Usually the first person they tell is their best friend. So we also have to educate our young people how to help a friend.

“I think there are added dangers for our young people because they can post the filming of sexual violence online, so the humiliation and the shaming can continue but there’s positives as well. I think it goes both ways.”

It was understood some of the Opotiki victims may still be attending school with the alleged perpetrators.

An “online component” involved was understood to be a private Facebook page, TV3 reported.

Read the full article, HERE.