'Stuff of nightmares': Seasonal worker jailed for raping 11-year-old girl

Steven Garae has been sentenced to prison for raping an 11-year-old in the toilet block of the...
Steven Garae has been sentenced to prison for raping an 11-year-old in the toilet block of the Blenheim Railway Station. The judge declined applications by the media to photograph Garae, for his safety in prison. Photo: Top South Media

WARNING: This story contains evidence of a sexual nature which some readers may find upsetting

A seasonal worker from overseas who raped a young schoolgirl in a railway station toilet block has been sentenced to seven years in prison.

Steven Tari Tambean Garae from Vanuatu pleaded guilty last year to rape and unlawful sexual connection following the April 2023 attack in Blenheim, which the Crown described as “the stuff of nightmares”.

The girl had been out riding her bike with a friend of the same age when Garae grabbed her and pulled her into the toilet block at the Blenheim railway station where he raped her.

Today, supporters and members of the 11-year-old girl’s family cried quietly as her grandmother and primary caregiver read a victim impact statement.

“The trauma of this is still so raw,” the victim’s grandmother said as Garae looked on from a video screen from where he is being held in custody.

She said the girl felt sad almost all the time, and that the feeling was growing worse - not better.

Crown prosecutor Jackson Webber said it was “an appalling rape of a vulnerable girl”.

He said not only had the effects been significant for the victim but also for the community.

“It was so stark - so violent. It was just horrendous offending that sets the community on edge because it was so random.”

Garae, then aged 23, had arrived in New Zealand less than six months earlier on a Seasonal Limited Work Visa, according to the summary of facts.

It was a Sunday morning on April 2 last year when Garae was walking along Dillons Point Rd in Blenheim, and came upon the two young girls.

He followed them and approached as they got close to the train station on Sinclair St where he began talking to the victim.

He walked alongside her for about 100m until they reached a public toilet at the train station carpark.

Garae then grabbed the girl by her wrist and pulled her toward the toilet block where the incidents that led to the charges of unlawful sexual connection happened, followed by rape which left the girl physically injured.

The victim was forcibly held down but tried to kick Garae during the attack that lasted for seven minutes before he ran from the scene.

A concerned member of the public contacted police and Garae was found and arrested an hour later. He claimed “the sex was consensual” before later admitting he “forced the victim to have sex with him”.

Garae was initially charged with raping a female aged under 12, abduction for sex with a girl aged under 12 and two charges of unlawful sexual connection with a female he initially told the police was consensual.

The charge of abduction was withdrawn and Garae pleaded guilty to a charge of rape and two of sexual violation, following a concerted effort by the court to ensure justice was delivered against challenging language barriers.

At sentencing Judge Tony Zohrab said an aggravating feature remained that there was an element of abduction in what he had done.

“You sacrificed her present and future wellbeing to satisfy your selfish sexual desires.

“Your selfish behaviour has led to a catastrophic impact on the victim and her family.”

Garae will remain in prison for a minimum of three and a-half years.


Where to get help:
If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone, contact Safe to Talk confidentially, any time 24/7:
• Call 0800 044 334
• Text 4334
• Email support@safetotalk.nz
• For more info or to web chat visit safetotalk.nz
Alternatively contact your local police station - click here for a list.
If you have been sexually assaulted, remember it's not your fault.

 - By Tracy Neal

 - Open Justice multimedia journalist, Nelson-Marlborough