Gemma Carlisle. File photo / Hawke's Bay Today
A Hawkes Bay volleyball coach has been sentenced to home
detention after she admitted engaging in a "damaging
psychological relationship" with a young female student.
Police say the relationship featured thousands of text
messages between the pair, some of which the coach pressured
the girl to delete when investigations commenced into her
offending. The woman also encouraged the young girl to commit
acts of self-harm and suicide.
Gemma Anne Carlisle, 29, of Napier, was sentenced to 10
months' home detention when she appeared in the Napier
District Court today on charges of ill treatment of a child
and attempting to pervert the course of justice. The sentence
also includes six months' post-release special conditions.
Hawkes Bay police are now urging schools and sports clubs to
be more vigilant around the use of sports coaches after the
full impact of Carlisle's offending emerged.
Police say the charges relate to a relationship Carlisle
began in 2012 with a 14-year-old girl. Carlisle was the
girl's volleyball coach and developed a close, emotional
relationship with her over the next year. The offending
occurred during 2013 when the girl was 15.
Detective Sergeant Tim Smith said police investigations
established that 9000 text messages were sent between the
pair over an eight week period - during the day and night.
"It just had such an emotional impact on the victim with her
schooling and her self-esteem."
The charge of ill treatment of a child relates to the
emotional and psychological harm the young girl was subjected
to through her relationship with Carlisle, Mr Smith said. The
charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice relates
to Carlisle putting pressure on the young girl to lie to
police about their relationship, deleting texts and emails
and changing phones so they could continue communicating
after being told to stop their relationship.
Mr Smith said this was a clear example of how young,
vulnerable people could be manipulated by an older adult who
in this case, successfully groomed the girl into an emotional
but harmful relationship.
"This woman [Carlisle] was a volleyball coach. She was in a
position of power and trust and unfortunately the victim was
coerced into a damaging psychological partnership where
self-harming and suicide was encouraged.
"The girl was a normal, happy teenager before meeting
Carlisle but she ended up relying heavily on her coach as her
self-esteem plummeted," Mr Smith said.
Police say the investigation was unique in that it involved a
female sports coach who had developed an intense emotional
relationship with a young girl.
"If this had been a male coach, there would have been instant
red flags that parents, teachers and fellow coaches would
Mr Smith said the school involved would have had no reason to
be suspicious of Carlisle. But it was incumbent on all
schools and sports clubs to keep a watching brief over all
coaches or other adults involved in school or club
"While in this case the school had no reason to question
Carlisle, it does raise the issue of the need for extra
vigilance around the relationships coaches and other adults
can form with students.
"We are just pleased that the victim now has a happy, normal
life and is able to move on from these damaging experiences."
The girl's name and the school she attended are suppressed.
Carlisle, a married mother-of-three who is now aged 29,
became fulltime regional manager for Volleyball Hawke's Bay
in April 2012.
Judge Jonathan Down told the court: "This is an extraordinary
case. It is utterly unique.''
While the relationship extended to physical touching, in
which Carlisle cradled the girl's head in her arms and slept
with her in the same bed, the judge accepted there was no
evidence of sexual motivation.
In statements available to the court, the girl spoke of the
deterioration in her life as the relationship developed, and
as Carlisle tried to have her believe her life was miserable
and her family were against her and did not love her.
Carlisle also undermined the efforts of a psychologist to
help the girl, despite having been warned by the psychologist
and the girl's parents, after it was discovered the girl had
The judge accepted a submission from Crown prosecutor Steve
Manning that it was not so unique that the sentencing should
not include an element to deter others.
Mr Manning noted there had been another case in court
elsewhere in the country in recent weeks involving a coach's
inappropriate relationship with a pupil.
Volleyball New Zealand CEO Paul Cameron said the organisation
supported the sentence handed down to Carlisle.
The behaviour of Carlisle, whose employment ended soon after
details of the relationship emerged, was ``totally
unacceptable and will not be tolerated''.
The organisation is currently drafting a Child Protection
Policy which Mr Cameron said all codes should be working-on
to prevent such situations occurring.