It was meant to be a dream honeymoon and a well-deserved break from their children. Instead, a New Zealand couple’s Rarotongan getaway turned into a nightmare after an intruder sneaked into their villa and assaulted the bride.
Holly (35) and her husband Garth were honeymooning in a luxury unit on the tropical island’s waterfront when an intruder broke in at 4am and assaulted Holly – while her husband was asleep beside her.
Speaking to New Zealand Woman’s Weekly on the condition of anonymity, Holly has told the story of her frightening ordeal during what should have been the holiday of a lifetime.
On the night of the assault in March this year, Holly dreamed that she was being rolled over in her sleep and that her leg was being pulled aside. “In my dream I was thinking, ‘This is really strange, why am I being rolled over?’ Then I started to wake and I felt this cold hand on my shoulder closest to the edge of the bed.
At that point I didn’t know it wasn’t my husband, so I reached across and my hand hit my husband on the other side of the bed. I woke with a jolt realising that the hand on my shoulder was somebody else’s.”
The intruder then walked slowly past the bed with his head bowed, and out the door. “I noticed that he wasn’t wearing a shirt and was wearing a lava-lava,” says Holly. “I screamed, ‘There’s someone in the room!’” Waking with a start, Garth said, “There can’t be, the door is locked.”
They called the hotel management, who rang the police and shifted the couple to another room – but their honeymoon was ruined. “I will never forget that feeling of absolute terror,” Holly tells the Weekly from her home north of Auckland.
“I just stayed inside crying. I was scared, confused and upset. I had the curtains drawn, I couldn’t be left alone. We just bided our time until we could get off the island.”
The couple, who have been together for five years, had never been on holiday without their children. They had been given the flights to Rarotonga as a wedding present and were thrilled with their beach-front villa with its own plunge pool, which cost around $700 a night.
“We were blown away by it. I’d arranged to have some photographs taken while we were there, which are really beautiful, but they’re a bit tainted as well. “I can’t think about my wedding without thinking about my honeymoon. I know we had a beautiful wedding but I can’t access the joyous feelings associated with it.”
Holly recalls having a “creepy” feeling on the day of the attack and told her husband to lock the door that night. Garth insists that he did, and they are confused about how the intruder got inside as there was no evidence of a forced entry.
Japhet Manuel, an unemployed man who lived close by, was arrested and charged with Holly’s assault. He’d already served time for sex offences and been warned to stay away from tourist centres. His assault on Holly came in the middle of a crime spree when he committed six offences over four days.
In the worst case, he sexually assaulted a woman who was seven months’ pregnant while her husband was in another room. Manuel pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three and a half years in jail for his crime spree, but the judge told police that the charge for his assault against Holly should have been indecent assault, which carries a harsher sentence.
“These offences against women need to be properly charged,” the chief justice warned. “You should be profoundly ashamed of what you have done to these women,” he said, raising concerns that Manuel could reoffend without proper medical treatment. He also took the unusual step of ordering that Manuel receive mental health care.
Holly believes Manuel should have been given a stronger sentence and she’s concerned over the difficulties she’s had getting information from the Rarotongan police. She’s also laid a complaint against the two police officers who came to investigate the intrusion.
Holly feels they didn’t believe her, and one complained that he was meant to be on holiday. “They told us off for not locking the door,” says Holly. A second officer who came the next day took the invasion more seriously and arrested Manuel that day.
“I felt much better knowing that somebody had been arrested. It was explained to us that the police are under-resourced and don’t get paid very much.”
Holly has also learned about the lack of good mental health care in Rarotonga. But she says she has no plans to ever go back to the island, and after returning home was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
“I had nightmares, I couldn’t sleep with the light off. I still can’t be in the dark. For months I would stay up until two in the morning. I didn’t want to go to bed, because if I lay down I would just remember what happened and I was too afraid to sleep. “There’s no way I would ever go back. There’s just no way.”
*Not their real names