A fourteen-year-old girl from Santo is now pregnant after she was raped by five different men 17 times on different occasions.
The men are: Clement Surmat, James Surmat, Johnny Surmat, Anthony Surmat and Ismael Surmat.
The Supreme Court recently sentenced the five men to custodial punishments after they pleaded guilty to a joint representative charge of unlawful sexual intercourse, contrary to section 97 (2) of the Penal Code Act [CAP 135].
But although the men were given custodial sentences, the highest was Clement with only four (4) years. James and Johnny were given (2) years, Anthony Surmat got one (1) year and four (4) months, while Ismael was sentenced to eight (8) months imprisonment.
According to Justice Saksak, the purpose of giving them custodial sentence is to mark the seriousness of the offendings, the court’s condemnation of their actions and to be a deterrence for other like-minded men, to protect young girls, women and the vulnerable members of the community and the punish the convicts adequately.
Unlawful sexual intercourse carries a maximum penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment after the parliament amended the Act to increase the penalty by 5 year in 2016.
Although they committed the offences on different dates, the five men were charged together.
All men are from the same village and all carry the same surname of Surmat although the court did not mention if they are all related.
The victim is likely a year older when the rapists were sentenced by the Supreme Court earlier this month.
Clement was the first to commit the offence against the 14-year-old girl on June 2017.
The court heard that it was a Saturday afternoon when she was walking through her village to collect some money for her mother’s savings.
According to the court, the first perpetrator was stalking her with a bush knife in hand at that time.
When he got up to her, he told her to go to the bush, pointing a knife at her and telling her he would cut her when she hesitated.
Shaking with fear and scared for her life she went into the bush. Clement followed her to the bush where he raped her for the first time.
The second time she was attacked and raped by the same man was in September 2017 in a bush near her village.
Clement admitted to raping the young girl about 6 or 7 times, the last one time on October 2017. Admitting to knowing that she was 14-year-old at that time, Clement accepted that he was the father of the baby now that the victim is pregnant.
As if raping the 14-year-old and humiliating her was not enough Clement spoke of his actions to James Surmat who was the second person to go after the girl and raped her two weeks after Clement first raped her. James admitted to raping her repeatedly about four times.
Clement and James spread the word to the third convict, Johnny Surmat who also followed her into the bush one day in July 2017 and had sex with her.
Johnny told the court he thinks he had sex with the girl four times.
The fourth convict, Anthony Surmat also had sex with the girl twice, on August and September 2017 although he knew she was a 14-year-old.
The written sentence of the case does not make any relation between Anthony and the first four convicts.
Ismael was the fifth convict who had sex with the victim once also on August 2017.
He claimed he did not know she was only 14 years of age at the time.
The dates of the offending as stated by the court shows that the young girl was continuously rape by the five men in different occasions starting from when she was first raped by Clement on June 2017.
She was last raped on September 2017.
When sentencing the men Supreme Court Judge, Oliver Saksak told them that although the girl may have been acting foolishly and willingly at the time of the offendings, that did not give them any excuse at all to be ignorant of her age and to take advantage of her and to abuse her sexually.
He referred to a previous Appeal Court case, PP.v. Gideon  as a classic unlawful sexual intercourse.
Justice Saksak quoted the Appeal Court saying, “There is an overwhelming need for the Court on behalf of the community to contempt in the strongest terms any who abuse young people in the community.
“Children must be protected. Any suggestion that a 12-year-old has encouraged or initiated sexual intimacy is rejected. If a 12-year-old is acting foolishly then they need protection from adults. It is totally wrong for adults to take advantage of their immaturity….
“Men must learn that they cannot obtain sexual gratification at the expense of the weak and vulnerable. Men who take advantage sexually of young people forfeit their right to remain in the community.”
Assistant Public Prosecutor Damien Boe told Daily Post, “I believe this case could have been worse for the victim if the young men had not pled guilty. Usually however, in such cases, when the accused refuses to admit guilt, the victim does not receive enough support to provide her with the courage to testify against the perpetrator of the rape. I appeal to Women Advocacy Groups, especially here in Santo, to please provide more awareness and support for our young ladies, especially school aged children so that they will have the courage to stand up in court. The politicians have done their part in passing laws to increase the penalty for rape, now our Women’s Support networks need to do their part to support these unfortunate women who through no fault of their own, find themselves faced with such violence. Help them get the justice they deserve.”
SOURCE: VANUATU DAILY POST