How a past social experiment fails New Zealand

How a past social experiment fails New Zealand, aides the minds of sexual groomers, and became embossed on our, ‘Kiwi DIY is in our DNA’.

Opinion piece in response to an article written by Rob Kidd a journalist for the Otago Daily Times, NZ.


The case of Samuel Ebdell before Dunedin District Court was, according to Judge Emma Smith, and reported on by Otago Daily Times Crime reporter Rob Kidd, ‘highly unusual’, but was it? And if it was, for what reason should it have been, and, how is this case linked to a New Zealand social experiment that assists the minds of sexual groomers?

The case before Judge Smith was a bit of déjà vu for some in the court room. The charges were the same, the facts of the case were the same, the objectionable child abuse material was the same, the defendant was the same. The main, and probably only difference were the dates of the charges, and the fact that Judge Smith was now the Judge, and not Judge John Macdonald.

The other item that was the same; another ubiquitous case of NZ pro offender-itus.

As with nearly all crime reports of this nature, the devil is in the detail, and the reporter’s role in it is a difficult one to bring balance, fairness and truth in a complex story that their public will want to read in a few minutes from mobile devices.

When I read the story, I felt the victims (all of them), saw the intelligence gaps, the risks, education, safeguarding and the recurring failure to place the victim at the core of the judicial system in favour of a chimera: that an offender can be saved by therapy, and that once therapy is delivered, he will be cured.

Risk averted.

I have never once witnessed in a New Zealand court a Judge ask, of even consider, if the offender was suitable for therapy. There may have been some, but in my opinion, they are in the minority.

My son attended law school in NZ and tells me the word, ‘victim’ was not mentioned once until the third year, and then it was in another topic that had no salience with it. Rape and restorative justice as a means of case disposal was however, a very hot topic in year one.

Anybody who knows me well enough, follows me, reads my opinions in this field, or has worked with me in it, will know that I fully support therapy. I believe it has a valuable place in an overall management plan. It has a crucial role in the management of online offenders, particularly to young adults who are living with that urge and who are trying not to act on it. If there was ever one area, apart from enforcement, that needed investment, that area would be it. Judicial reality though, is very different. Our system is tilted very much in the favour of the offender and that shines through in this case, yet again.

One of the biggest misconceptions of therapy is that all offenders are suitable, when in fact most are not. Any that are suitable, enter and leave therapy in some form of denial. It is not a cure; it is a management plan.

The question for me is why, how did we get here, and why is it we just seem to accept the risks without question, when in our daily lives up and down the land; common sense and a can do attitude of DIY is in our DNA is who we are.

As I have said before, clinicians who devote their lives to working with solely offenders have my full admiration. I couldn’t do it. In some way though, I feel a twisted sense of umbilical attachment to them, in that I have kept them in work with a steady stream of clients. After all, if it wasn’t for me and others like me, they wouldn’t be in a job.

So how is a social experiment linked to a sexual groomer and child sex offender?

The word, ‘unusual’ in this case was highlighted by the Judge. I would agree it is, but for none of the reasons which appear to have been mentioned at court. This case is not just about an online offender. It is about an online offender who is prepared to offend in the real world, and to aid in that offending use grooming, coercion, blackmail and threats. In comparison to the numbers who just offend online, or just groom online and hide behind the environment they operate in, this offender has taken all three steps in one very short space of time; into the real world.

Yes, now that is unusual.

I was the author of the publicly funded serious case review into the death of Blessie Gotingco. During that review I used the Spiral of Abuse or Brick Wall model used by Dr Joe Sullivan, Forensic Psychologist, (someone who I have worked with before). That case, and others, form part of an education, safeguarding and early intervention package available through this website. Using the available information, I have placed the offender on it. Whilst I do not have the full intelligence picture, certain conclusions can be made. The offender has reached the bottom of the model. The rate in which he got there was rapid, and although the offender may not progress further; in severity levels, where to next?

Unusual? Yep, for sure.

What is going on inside the mind of a child sex abuser who grooms their victims and is prepared to blackmail them both on and offline? Well, they are the best undercover officer or actor of all time. They are patient, they are planners, they are manipulators and yet at the same time plausible. They are convincing and driven by their sexual urge for children. They can be aggressive and act like a bully, then change to providing romantic support and understanding within seconds. They can be controlling, threatening, and intimidating all at the same time. They use distortive thinking strategies to overcome their actions. Some have bouts of guilt, shame and embarrassment. Some may consider confiding, but the legal consequences stop them. Above all though, they are liars.

Was there any demonstrable level of understanding about the sexual grooming processes in this case, an in-depth understanding of the gravity and risks, not a passing comment to red flags, but a clear understanding of therapy within an overall management plan? Was there any real victimology used and was it placed first at the core of everything? The second case indicates that the police and probation failed to identify and capture the cloud cache in the first investigation. Was there ever an online management plan to stop the offender using any electronic device and access to the internet in the first case? If so, he must have breached that, so I assume there wasn’t or in the best very case scenario was he monitored effectively?

Leaving the sex offenders register aside until later, the statement that he ‘technically downloaded’ the material for a second time in my opinion is something that should never have been allowed to occur had an effective management plan been in place from the first investigation and case disposal. I want to be clear here, I don’t know enough from the just the facts in the article, but I remind any reader to the section regarding how a groomers mind works. And as an expert in this field, I can say without hesitation that there is no such thing as ‘technical’ downloading and still be charged back before the court. You are either in possession or not in possession. Offenders who operate online are tech savvy, they know what a cloud account is and how to recover from it.

I can’t fully deal with the failure of placing the victim first without dealing with the sex offender register, but I must say this now; in both cases, the victims’ voice was not placed at the core of sentencing. Had they been it would have driven a victim centred management plan and the children in the child abuse material would not have been victimised a second time. There can be no excuse for further revictimisation.

Plain fact is, we will always run the risk of sentencing like this because we have a judicial system that is tilted in favour of the offender. How we got here though is a complex and difficult question, hard to see, feel, and grasp. There is one factor which, although does not apply in this case, in my view does go some way to a possible explanation.

Name suppression.

There are good and necessary reasons for name suppression such as juveniles, child victims, child witnesses etc. Law experts argue that the media and other commenters cannot be trusted to report in a balanced way. The media argue that name suppression outside of the obvious ones hinders open justice, public interest and transparent democracy. Global connectivity within seconds has tied court orders to New Zealand media only, making them outdated at least.

The argument of a fair trial exists only in that there is legislation in existence that covers it, not because they couldn’t or wouldn’t. Permanent name suppression is on the way down, and media corporations regularly club together to challenge court decisions in this area.

I’m not talking about any of that.

I am talking about a period when New Zealand had blanket name suppression for everybody, for every offence. Taking politics out of the equation, including modern day governance, and their links to it, that implementation is a major social experiment, one lost to memory, but one with far reaching effects decades after. That sort of process, thinking, planning and implementation takes a certain type of ideology to create, motivate and deploy over an entire nation, and would have found some support in the judicial sector. There have been some changes to it since then, but as generations have come along since, they look at the landscape and see it as something that has always been there and so it becomes part of their culture, even if it doesn’t sit well on top of how they’ve been brought up. Embossed on them from Government. It was an ideology that irrespective of what your political thoughts were, benefitted the offender over the victim, and so it has been ever since.

There are good, balanced and victim centric judgements up and down the land, but there are still a great many that put the offender first. I work with victim advocates and see and read the cases, they can be picked out as coming from New Zealand without identifying features. There is a method to them. Age is one that really sticks out.

How does that assist the mind of a sexual groomer? Well, if there is no deterrent, no control, no management, no understanding, then the system will allow the groomer to hide in plain sight. A process that considers the plight of the offender first will allow all the behavioural traits, the mind of the child sex offender, room to operate without fear of retributive justice.

Without knowing more surrounding the facts of the case it is difficult to comment accurately and victim advocates who apply for transcripts from the court are mostly refused even when there is good argument. One thing that is clear though, the offender was not placed on the sex offenders register. The article does not detail the categorisation of the child abuse material, any chat logs that may surround them, numbers, number of times they were accessed; but does mention age of victims. Indeed, the court may never have had any of these facts.

If an offender does not get prison, then it is up to the court to decide if that offender should be placed on the sex offenders register. As the Judge declined to place him on it, one must assume he was at some stage due to his age a ‘registrable’ offender. That means the court then must satisfy themselves that the person poses a risk to lives or sexual safety of one or more children or of children generally. To help them they must consider a range of risk factors.

We don’t know the findings of the Judge, however, knowing the legislation as I do, to come up with a decision to not place him on the register would mean that either the risk was deemed as not present or they were taken as mitigating factors when in fact they can only be risks, such as age of the offender. The offender was in possession of child abuse material on children as young as three. These images are not just lying around the internet just waiting to be downloaded by some unsuspecting browser. You must infiltrate and communicate with others or dark web sites to get them or know of P2P addresses that give you access. You must have a motivation to get them. A motivation that is driven by a sexual desire for children.

Anybody who goes to this level of action online is a threat to children globally. The fact that the offender is willing to offend on and offline, is high risk, highly unusual, and places him towards the top on my child threat matrix.

The decision to not place him on the register was in my opinion was wrong, another example of ‘Pro Offender-itus’, and another example of non victim centric case disposal. Offender first, victim second.


Yes. Police must up their game in forensic examination and the depth of which officers can submit hardware for examination. That needs investment from the centre and on top of what they already have.

Police should employ one or more full time forensic psychologists who work for the police and go to court. Down stream monitor interviews or review case files and recorded interviews. Bring the other side of the therapy argument to court. Stop giving the defence free reign. At the end of the day the court can only dispose on what is presented before it.

Crown law should consider a challenge on the court’s decision to not make the offender a ‘registrable’ one. At some point he was 18 or older. Who spoke for the children in those images?

The two secondary school victims, what education did they have to identify grooming when it was being applied and what action to take? Had those two children been empowered through education they may never have fallen victim. A starting point for that is which I am associated with and the Southern Hemisphere contact for. Safer Schools equals safer kids. Get the app. Help, education and empowerment only a swipe away on their mobile devices. If the school is insured through Zurich Municipal they get the app bespoke to their school for free. It’s a no brainer and most UK schools think so as well.

There was great deal more to this case than met the eye, the reporter and the ODT did a great job in bringing it to the attention of the public. I view it as safeguarding in action. I truly hope that the offender in this case will stop and never offend again, even if my experience tells me hope is never a good plan when dealing with child sex offenders. The Judge has made a prediction. I will make a different sort of one.

Ebdell will never go on the sex offenders register for a period of 8 years.