12 Sep 2014

Support for alleged backpacker victims

8:27 am on 12 September 2014

A sexual abuse survivors group has been put on alert for a potential onslaught of alleged victims after the arrest of a Kaitaia hostel owner on drugging and sexually assaulting charges.

The lodge in Kaitaia.

The lodge in Kaitaia. Photo: SUPPLIED

Michael Harris is facing 39 charges of drugging, sexually assaulting and photographing tourists who stayed at his Kaitaia backpackers' hostel, Main Street Lodge, during the past two-and-a-half years.

The police have appealed for people who may think they have been victims to come forward but say the alleged drugging element could mean some will not know whether they have been targeted.

Far North CIB head Detective Sergeant Rhys Johnston said potential victims who had contacted them were from Germany, England, Scotland, the United States and New Zealand.

"(We've) definitely got 16 identified, seperate victims as a result of the evidence we've seized," Mr Johnston said.

"Our job now is to try and track those people down and positively identify them.

"At the same time, we're doing this public appeal and we're getting contact from people all over the world, really.

"Not every call is a potential victim. Some of it's information on our suspect and on the premises."

Shame, guilt for alleged victims

Police had contacted Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust manager Ken Clearwater to check whether there would be enough help for any victims.

"A lot of people went through that lodge over that period of time, so it'll be a matter of whether they will come forward now and seek help," Mr Clearwater said.

"Being males, there will be a lot of shame and guilt that goes with it as well. So it'll be interesting to see what does come out of it.

"It's just making sure that we've got the services available if they do come forward."

The police had not given Mr Clearwater any indication of how many victims there might be but he said he hoped the agencies in six centres nationwide would be able to deal with whatever eventuated.

Kaitaia has been rattled by other cases of sexual abuse recently.

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Photo: RNZ

Last year, Pamapuria School former deputy principal James Parker was sentenced to preventive detention for 74 sexual offences against 20 children.

Ricky Houghton, a social worker and community leader in Kaitaia, said news of the latest arrest had rattled the Far North town.

"The ground has shifted again and the community has found itself in this big, horrible, empty space.

"We haven't fully recovered from the last incidents, and we find ourselves in this situation again."

Mr Harris will next appear in the Kaitaia District Court on Thursday.