Victim of molesting league player praised for 'eloquence and bravery'

Steven Campbell-Paniona has moved to Auckland since sexually abusing his friend. Photo: Staff...
Steven Campbell-Paniona has moved to Auckland since sexually abusing his friend. Photo: Staff photographer
A woman who was molested by her friend of five years has blasted him in court, saying his predatory acts had changed her life.

Steven Keni Campbell-Paniona (24) appeared in the Dunedin District Court yesterday after pleading guilty to indecent assault after a party on May 12 last year.

The rugby league player, who had since moved to Auckland, was given ''forgiveness and redemption'' by his partner and they had since had their first child, the court heard.

Counsel Kahungunu Barron-Afeaki SC said his client had asked friends and family not to attend court in his support, ''because he is so ashamed''.

However, the victim was there to tell Campbell-Paniona of the devastating consequences she had suffered.

''I've spent countless nights awake, crying and thinking about everything that happened down to every last detail, thinking what I may have done to encourage Steven to do to the things he did to me. I can't put it down to anything,'' she said through tears.

''There's literally not one thing I did that night or the entire time I've known him ... not one.''

The victim told the court Campbell-Paniona's actions had almost robbed her of a year of study.

She was advised to repeat the year but ploughed on.

Later, she found out she had failed her end-of-year exams and had to return in January to resit.

The woman now faced a nervous wait to see whether she had passed and could transfer away from Dunedin.

The city served as a reminder of the trauma, the victim said.

''Sometimes I'll have good days and be able to put a mask on. Sometimes I wake up and don't want to leave the house. I spend the entire day in bed doing nothing,'' she said.

The victim told the court Campbell-Paniona had affected the way she lived her life and her entire psyche.

''I'm usually a confident, resilient and outgoing wahine,'' she said.

''While I like to maintain I'm still very much all those things, what Steven did to me has planted a tiny seed of self-doubt, distrust and insecurity that was never there before and remains in the back of my brain, creeping its way into anything that I do.''

Though she had heard the defendant had started alcohol counselling, she was concerned it did not ''address the attitude of entitlement Steven seems to have over women's bodies''.

Judge Emma Smith praised the woman for her ''eloquence and bravery''.

On the night in question, an hour after the victim had gone to bed, Campbell-Paniona sneaked in beside her.

He ground his crotch up against her from behind and touched her ''everywhere but her face'', the court heard.

When the woman asked him where his girlfriend was, the defendant locked the bedroom door and resumed his molestation.

Eventually, she got out of bed and left the room.

Mr Barron-Afeaki said the incident took place over a relatively short period of time.

''As soon as the incident took place he regretted it,'' he said.

Central to the offending was alcohol, he said.

Although that provided background, it could never excuse Campbell-Paniona's behaviour, Judge Smith said.

''Your explanation is no more than 'I was intoxicated','' she said.

The conviction meant the defendant had to immediately quit his job in youth development and his hopes for a career in law enforcement or teaching were over.

Campbell-Paniona was sentenced to six months' community detention, 350 hours' community work and nine months' supervision.

He was ordered to pay the victim $4000.

rob.kidd@odt.co.nz

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