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Abuse of Trust: Pt 1 - The trap

Sat 3 May 2014 In: True Stories View at Wayback View at NDHA

Silipa Take On Wednesday morning Wellington man Silipa Take, charged with 13 counts of indecently assaulting ten of his male sexual health counselling clients, narrowly avoided a jail sentence. He was instead sentenced to home detention, community service, financial reparations and a psychological evaluation. The sentencing judge drew attention to the massive abuse of trust underlying the offending. The facts produced for the court, underlying his eventual guilty plea, present a disturbing but dryly worded litany of repeated abuses of trust and vulnerability. However, without intruding on the victims' privacy, with their abuser clearly unwilling to talk, the experience of those who were sexually abused by then-NZ AIDS Foundation counsellor Silipa Take can be related or inferred based on information supplied to the court and, and personified as follows... A young-ish man, let's say he's in his late 20s, although the actual victims ranged in age from 18 to 45, pauses at the the door and staircase that lead up to the AIDS Foundation's Wellington offices. He's had sex with other men. It is possible no one much knows that he does that. He may even be deeply closeted. But something has gone wrong. He has a rash. Or an uncomfortable feeling. Or his mind is replaying over and over again his spur of the moment decision to let a sex partner fuck him without a condom. Perhaps he has been delaying this moment for weeks, unsure of how or where to get tested, fearful of the process and the consequences. Finally he has plucked up just enough courage to confront his fears. He's come all the way into town from the Hutt or Porirua or Karori. He may have made an appointment or maybe he's just turned up, hoping that no one he knows is nearby to see him go through that door and up those stairs. It's HIV he's most frightened of, but syphilis, gonorhoea and all the rest are almost as scary. At the top of the stairs he is warmly welcomed by the Awhina Centre's gay male receptionist and that calms his nerves a bit. He is asked to sit and wait a few minutes until someone is available to see him. The atmosphere is relaxed, slightly down-market corporate, friendly and unthreatening. He might be offered tea or coffee while he waits. The urge to bolt subsides a little. He notices that the walls are lined with exhortations to take care of himself, to use condoms, to get tested. To stay safe. A solidly-built man in his late 40s with a friendly, smiling face appears and introduces himself. He's a trained counsellor of fifteen years experience who is authorised to guide the young man through the sexual health checkup process, to suggest ways of ensuring good sexual health, to take the simple blood test for HIV infection and to make recommendations for follow-up tests for other possible STIs which he himself is neither trained nor permitted to do. If the young man has issues around his sexuality these might also be talked through. Behind the closed door of the consulting room, with its comfortable couch, chair, tidily appointed desk and perhaps a cheering framed print and a potted plant, and after confirming whatever personal details the young man is brave enough to reveal, the counsellor elicits some indication of his client's sexual history and they discuss what his risks of contracting STIs, especially HIV, might be. It's all new and pretty damn scary for the young man. Perhaps his hands shake a little, perhaps he has difficulty making eye contact. Perhaps this is so difficult he makes things up to disguise his identity, to minimise the fear or his embarrassment. Perhaps his eyes fall on a framed diploma, issued by an impressively named professional organisation and certifying that the counsellor is skilled and creditable, with years of relevant professional training. The counsellor's quiet voice and professional demeanour are similarly reassuring. Everything indicates that the vulnerable client can totally trust this man. For years that projection of reassurance, trust and safety has been genuine and could be taken for granted. But not recently. For several months now it's degraded into a calculated facade that successfully works to the counsellor's own advantage. And right now it's starting to work again. The good name and consistently respected reputation of the NZAF's counselling services have again been usurped to lure a victim in. As the younger man begins to relax, perhaps even let his guard down a little, what should be a supportive and unthreatening space in which the counsellor mentors his vulnerable client is actually a trap. Predator and prey are now alone behind a closed door. From the moment the consulting room door closed nothing is what it seems. That closed door, meant to provide privacy and confidentiality, now keeps out casually observant eyes. It's now a barrier against the real world outside. Unsure of how this should be playing out the young man may even be feeling grateful that someone who knows the ropes, someone so qualified and experienced and seemingly understanding has taken charge, is calling the shots, providing guidance and reassurance. As the fast turnaround test for HIV is explained to him all seems reassuringly clinical. He takes in fragments of information about fingertip pricks, blood droplet, a 20 minute wait, infection window period, seroconversion. It's all matter of fact, calming and almost like being in a doctor's surgery. When the counsellor suggests that, while they wait for the blood test result to emerge, he check his client for other sexually transmitted infections the young man has already been lulled into a false sense of security. Probably it's his first ever sexual health check-up so he has nothing to compare it to. Perhaps he had already told the counsellor it's his first time. Perhaps he saw a flicker of a smile which he mistakenly interpreted as genuine empathy. So when he is asked to lower his trousers and underpants he is a little coy but figures this is the usual procedure. As he stands there, a bit self-consciously exposed, his pants round his ankles and the counsellor sitting in front of him, he almost assuredly doesn't realise that the counsellor is no longer thinking professionally, is not following established procedures nor determining what is best for his vulnerable client. Instead, Silipa Take is working to his own agenda. As the trap springs, his prey is still tragically unaware of what is actually happening. In part two, tomorrow, we take you through the facts of several cases to convey the enormity of Silipa Take's repeated offending.     Jay Bennie - 3rd May 2014

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Saturday, 3rd May 2014 - 11:39am

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