The court heard Ventura had some “confusion around sexual intimacy”. PHOTO: ERIN COX
WARNING: Article discusses sexual violence against women.
A Dunedin premier rugby player who committed a sex attack in a darkened park has left a woman deeply traumatised.
Erin Cox speaks to the victim as well as another woman who accused him of a harrowing assault and explores the mystery surrounding two charges being dropped.
A predator who attacked a teenager as she walked the streets alone has been sentenced to home detention.
Early on August 7 last year, the 19-year-old woman was heading home from town, walking across the North Ground, when she saw a man walking towards her.
Meeting him with a smile, she had no idea of his “horrific intentions”.
Emmanuel Ventura, 21, knew the grounds well, having played premier club rugby for Alhambra Union on that exact field.
The Dunedin District Court later heard the man had limited sexual experience and a psychologist report said his offending was the result of a depressive episode and a misguided desire for female affection.
Police believed Alice (name changed to protect her identity) was Ventura’s third sex attack in four months.
Charges related to two other women were laid but later withdrawn.
“It was immediately so disappointing to hear that there were two other[s],” Alice said.
“It’s hard to hear that this maybe could have been prevented … I had it in the back of my head this entire time. These women … I feel some kind of responsibility for them and for this charge to get through.”
Police explained the man’s evidential interview would have been inadmissible in a trial due to “circumstances personal to the defendant”, which led to them dropping charges related to the other two women.
Under the Official Information Act, the Otago Daily Times requested the transcript of Ventura’s interview in a bid to understand why.
The request was denied.
Police would only say it was “to avoid prejudice to the maintenance of the law, including the prevention, investigation and detection of offences, and to protect the privacy of the natural persons”.
“The defendant offered to plead guilty to the third charge if the Crown did not proceed with the first and second charge,” the police response said.
The two withdrawn charges of assault with intent to commit sexual violation stemmed from alleged incidents in April 2022, within 48 hours of each other.
One of the women told the ODT she was disappointed with the outcome.
“It’s pretty s…,” she said.
On the evening of April 16, the woman says she was walking home alone when Ventura approached her and asked for directions.
She looked over her shoulder but did not stop.
“He grabbed me from behind and put his arms around me so my arms were stuck by my side … I just started kicking and screaming and spilling out whatever threats I could think of.
“Next thing I know, I’m on the ground and he is walking back the way he came.
“I was kind of in shock.”
Alice, who was targeted four months later, struggled to believe the situation.
“It’s very scary and it was so fricken frustrating … They told me that the charges had been dropped. I was just like, ‘What do you mean?’
“This should never have happened and once was too many times.”
Alice came face to face with Ventura in the Dunedin District Court recently, a year on from the chilling sex attack.
“I met you with a smile … I felt safe because I should have been,” Alice told him.
Ventura approached the victim as she walked across a field and put his arms around her, attempting to manhandle her in the opposite direction, the court heard.
As the woman was pulled to face her attacker, he rubbed her legs and her bottom.
A struggle ensued, causing her to fall to the ground.
When the woman looked up, Ventura had exposed himself and ordered her to perform a sex act on him.
She managed to escape and was helped home by another man once Ventura fled the scene.
“I’m lucky not to have sustained any physical injuries … but there has been a substantial toll on my mental state,” she said.
She described how the night had significantly altered every aspect of her life, interfered with her studies and even prompted her to move cities.
She had suffered from anxiety and depression since the incident, grappling with feelings of guilt and shame.
“This has changed the way I see myself and the way others view me,” Alice said.
“I told myself only idiots walk home from town in a dark park alone. But no, this is not my fault. I am not responsible.”
The woman said the impacts of the assault had bled into her personal relationships and she even found simple tasks overwhelming.
“The trauma is deep and I can’t just take a pill and make it go away.”
Judge Jim Large commended the woman’s “courage and strength of character” and said there was clearly an element of premeditation to the attack.
Counsel John Westgate said his client had been battling severe depression and suicidal thoughts leading up to the incident.
Ventura was reluctant to discuss the motivation for his offending with a report writer, but did express some “confusion around sexual intimacy”, the court heard.
“I don’t get it. There seems to be a missing link,” the judge said.
That void, however, was filled by a psychological report.
It said Ventura’s goal was to seek affection and acceptance from women and he reportedly entered a “ruminative state” as he was unsure how to take the relationship with his girlfriend to the “next level”.
“He attempted, in an incompetent manner, to engage with another young woman to see how she responded to it,” the report said.
“Clearly the behaviour that night was not the way to achieve those goals,” Judge Large said.
While the man told the report writer he “had made a big mistake”, he only admitted to attempting to hug the woman.
His expressions of remorse took the form of “self-pity and shame for now being caught” and none of it was directed towards the victim, the court heard.
Judge Large said the man’s confusion around sexual intimacy was not a mitigating factor, nor did it lower his moral culpability.
Ultimately, Alice was grateful for the guilty plea as it saved her from a gruelling trial process.
“I was scared when they were taking photos of me in my outfit … I didn’t want to have to be questioned about how much I drank that night or what I wore.”
Sitting through sentencing was not easy either.
Ventura’s mental health was discussed at great length and a link was drawn between his “severe depression” and the attacks.
“Listening to all of the reasons why [he] is a good person … it was horrible.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m being assaulted by someone with a history of violence or someone who got straight As or someone who was on a sports team … You are still being assaulted.”
Ventura was sentenced to eight months’ home detention and his bid for final name suppression was denied.
One of the complainants in the alleged April attacks called the outcome “a slap on the wrist”, while Alice was “disappointed but not surprised”.