Girl’s years of terror
The neighbours would hear it all day and night, echoing through their rural cul-desac.
It started as soon as he came home, tooting the horn in the driveway, then swearing at his stepdaughter to open the gate for him.
Soon, he would be yelling about the animals. Or the washing. Or the mess her brother had made.
One neighbour broke down trying to describe it, marvelling at how he was able to yell for hours on end at the teenage girl.
‘‘It came from a place of real anger,’’ she said. ‘‘It was just so aggressive.’’ As the evening went on, his anger grew into acts of violence.
His steel-capped boots kicked her hips and legs. A rolling pin was broken on her back. A towel rail was swung her way again and again.
A meat tenderiser was hit against her toes as she was forced to hold full buckets with her arms outstretched.
He once threw her so hard she broke her foot. She complied with his request to lie to medical professionals and anyone who asked her about it.
All the while the girl’s mother stood by, silent about the abuse inflicted on her own daughter for five years.
The pair were found guilty in the Palmerston North District Court on Monday of neglecting the girl from 2011 to 2016, while the stepfather was found guilty of assaulting her multiple times.
The parents tried to paint the girl as a liar, taking concepts she had gleaned from television shows to invent a means to get away from her parents because she wanted to continue a relationship they did not approve of.
But in reality, the parents treated her ‘‘more like a slave’’ than a child, Crown prosecutor Karl van der Plas said.
The court heard the work would start for her immediately early in the morning, after a restless night sleeping in the same bed as her toddler brother.
She was made to care for him like her own son, often seen by neighbours holding him on her hip whenever she was home.
Lunch had to be prepared for her stepfather, dishes had to be done, a small menagerie of animals had to be fed and watered – all before she trudged off to school.
Teachers said she often lacked lunch, wore filthy clothes and had hygiene issues. One said she was anxious to get home immediately after school and during lunch breaks, as if she would be in trouble if she played with classmates.
Others in the Horowhenua and Manawatu¯ communities she lived in noticed she would be seen walking to school barefoot with no warm clothing or jacket, despite it pouring with rain and the temperature dropping as low as 2 degrees Celsius.
Schools and neighbours gave her new clothes to wear. She was once given a new cardigan by a relative. She said they were all cut up by her parents.
People also remember the smell. One woman said it was so strong she subtly tried to put perfume on the girl to mask the uric tang.
She was straight back into work as soon as she got home. Back to the animals, to her brother, to the house of Dickensian horror.
But the abuse was not entirely hidden. Neighbours saw her slaving away in the yard day after day. They saw her being screamed at, eyeball to eyeball with her stepfather. They heard it continue into the night.
One neighbour told the court the screaming was a regular soundtrack for her family’s dinners. It soon became a constant topic of conversation.
‘‘My husband and children, we would sit there and talk about it, especially at dinner time.
‘‘It became part of our life, listening to it. My kids are still really emotional about it.’’
She did nothing until her daughter told her to ‘‘help that little girl’’. Other neighbours did nothing. The girl was left to suffer in that house of horror until one day, when it all became too much, she ran away from home and spilled her story to an adult she knew – that home was no home to her at all.
The parents will be sentenced in January.