Oriwa Kemp. Picture: Michael Craig
Oriwa Kemp. Picture: Michael Craig

‘I’m not a monster’: Child abuser speaks

WARNING: Graphic content

NIA Glassie was three years old in 2007 when she was put in a clothes dryer spinning for 30 minutes on a hot setting.

The toddler had been hung on a clothesline and spun around, held over a burning fire, used to practise wrestling moves, folded into a couch and sat upon, shoved into piles of rubbish and cold baths, dragged half naked through a sandpit, thrown at walls and dropped from heights, and had various objects hurled at her.

Oriwa Kemp was one of the people jailed in relation to the abuse.

She was 17 when Nia died and 19 when she was jailed.

What you don't know about Kemp is her story - the story of how a little girl from Rotorua in New Zealand became part of the killing of another little girl, and why.

For the first time, Kemp has opened up about her life to the NZ Herald.

After appearing in the Herald countless times over the years for her role in Nia's death, for later offending and for having four of her own children taken by authorities, Kemp wants to speak out.

She says she does not want sympathy, and is not trying to excuse her actions and offending over the years - particularly around Nia.

She says she just wants to set the record straight so people will understand her and where she came from, and so she can move forward with her life with less uneducated judgment.

"I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me, no way," she said.

"I'm just not that person anymore."

Nia Glassie, the three-year-old toddler who was subjected to horrific abuse by her extended family
Nia Glassie, the three-year-old toddler who was subjected to horrific abuse by her extended family


Oriwa Terrina Reta Kemp was born in July 1990 in Rotorua to Valerie Paul and James Kemp.

Her childhood was not easy, but it was happy - "beautiful", in her words.

James Kemp wasn't on the scene much; he was a senior gang member and pretty much left Paul to raise the kids alone.

It was a violence-free home, even when he was there.

Paul worked full-time to support the family and her kids were often left to their own devices.

Before she hit her teens, Kemp started to push the boundaries.

There was a house down the street where some older boys lived and she took a shine to one in particular - Michael Curtis, who was four years older.

Kemp started sneaking out to party with Curtis and, still aged 12, she left home to live with him.

Paul wasn't happy and did what she could to haul her wayward daughter back on track - she'd storm up the street and bring Kemp home, or call the police.

But Kemp wanted what she wanted, and she just kept running back to Curtis.

There were drugs - Kemp was a methamphetamine addict at 13 - and violence.

She says she was beaten constantly and would run away, but always came back because she was "too scared not to".

Kemp was a child living in a very adult situation she was not equipped to handle.

Those around her now say Kemp, in that environment, "never stood a chance".

Kemp says Curtis managed to get a state house and a benefit and they were living there together when she fell pregnant.

She gave birth to her first child, a daughter, at 14.

Not long after that Curtis' brother Wiremu moved in with his girlfriend Lisa Kuka.

Kuka brought her three kids, including Nia Glassie.

The next couple of years were a never-ending swirl of drug abuse, parties, violence and dysfunction.

Kemp's mother died when she was 15 and the only person she could turn to was Curtis, a man she says she didn't want to live with - or without.

Oriwa Kemp moved in with then-boyfriend Michael Curtis when she was 12. They were later charged in relation to the death of Nia Glassie. Picture: Andrew Warner
Oriwa Kemp moved in with then-boyfriend Michael Curtis when she was 12. They were later charged in relation to the death of Nia Glassie. Picture: Andrew Warner


In August 2007 Nia died in Starship Hospital, 13 days after she was admitted with a head injury.

The abuse Nia suffered was later revealed, along with the names of those who subjected her to the brutality.

The abuse was mainly perpetrated by the Curtis brothers while Kuka was at work.

The brothers had decided they did not like Nia, that she was "ugly" and they began to abuse, attack and assault her for their own entertainment.

Court documents confirm that Kemp was not present for much of the abuse, but what she did see, she did not try to stop. In the eyes of the law that made her guilty.

After a high-profile trial, Kemp was convicted of five charges: two of wilful ill-treatment of Nia - effectively for not intervening when the abuse was happening in front of her - and three of assaulting Nia and her two sisters by throwing shoes.

Kuka was convicted of two counts of manslaughter for failing to provide the necessities of life for her daughter and failing to take "reasonable" steps to protect Nia from violence.

The Curtis brothers were convicted of murder.

Kemp went to prison for her part in Nia's abuse, and has been back in over the years for other offending.

But that's not the only reason she's been in the news.

Oriwa Kemp at 17. Picture: NZME
Oriwa Kemp at 17. Picture: NZME


Kemp's daughter was taken into care when Nia died and since then she has given birth to four more children.

Child Youth and Family were on hand for each of the first three births, taking the newborns immediately into care.

When her fifth child - a boy - was born on December 15, Kemp hoped it would be different.

Desperate to keep him and forge a real family life, she was working hard to prove to authorities she could be a fit parent.

She was still working through that process, which the Herald cannot legally report on, when she gave birth to her son.

He was due on New Year's Day and his arrival was unexpected, quick and very emotional.

There were complications and Kemp underwent emergency surgery, but she was able to spend a couple of days with her baby in hospital before social workers came and took him away.

She's now recovering at home, devastated, but still hopeful she can get her boy back one day - hopefully sooner rather than later.

The Herald has reported on Kemp's past two pregnancies.

She gave birth in late 2016 and fell pregnant again soon after.

In between, Kemp was in and out of court on charges relating to the baby's father, Lindsay Wilson.

She pleaded guilty to assaulting him when she was four months' pregnant - but at the same time he was before the courts for assaults on her.

Like Curtis, Wilson is older than Kemp - but this time by about 30 years.

Their relationship, spanning nine years - so most of her life post-Nia - was tumultuous and the couple became well known to police.

Oriwa Kemp has spoken for the first time about her life, and crimes. Picture: Michael Craig
Oriwa Kemp has spoken for the first time about her life, and crimes. Picture: Michael Craig


When you first meet Kemp, she is a woman of few words.

She comes across as shy, a bit distant - but you learn very quickly that she's observant, quick, smart and she definitely knows her own mind.

She's also very aware of what people think of her and why.

She talks about Nia with sadness and tells the Herald that if she could go back and change what happened she would, a thousand times over.

But as a 17-year-old mother who had been living under the shadow of addiction and domestic abuse for five years - she simply did not have the strength, courage or confidence to be the saviour Nia needed.

Kemp is a proud woman. She is visibly embarrassed when you ask her about Nia, her pregnancies and the kids who have been taken away in the past.

Yet, she never tries to minimise her offending or shy away from the consequences.

Kemp owns her mistakes. All of them.

There's a misconception about her older kids and her relationship with them.

Her oldest girl, fathered by Curtis, is coming up 13 and the others range in age from 1 to 5.

Wilson is the father of the younger children, who are all in care in the Rotorua area.

She's allowed to see them a few times a year, but lately has chosen not to.

Kemp finds it hard to bond with them over the short, heavily supervised meetings, and feels that it's too disruptive for the kids to have her flit in and out.

It's also "bloody hard" for her.

She makes the trip to see them and spends the whole time trying to stifle the shame and anger that comes with having them taken from her and her failure to bond with them and be the mother they need and she wants to be.

Kemp is under no illusions.

She knows why the kids are in care and she accepts that.

She knows she can't see them without supervision and she's grateful for the chance.

But the situation is no good for any of them, and that's why she's backed off.

When you ask her if she'd like to have all of her kids back one day, her face lights up.

"Oh yeah," she says enthusiastically.

Oriwa Kemp appears at Manukau District Court on a charge of assault in January 2017. Picture: Michael Craig
Oriwa Kemp appears at Manukau District Court on a charge of assault in January 2017. Picture: Michael Craig


In March 2017 Kemp was arrested, facing another raft of charges, and had nowhere to go.

She knew of a woman who took people in, people like her who had no one and nothing, and helped them through their troubles.

That woman was Elaine Ngamu.

Ngamu's no stranger to the justice system. She's served a handful of jail sentences for fraud but she's managed to rebuild her life and family.

She now works at the Hoani Waititi Marae in Glen Eden with, in her words, waifs and strays, trying to help them do the same.

"I asked my lawyer to call Elaine and see if I could come and stay with her," Kemp said.

"She said yes."

It was the first time in a long time, perhaps ever, Kemp had asked for help.

She didn't realise it at the time, but it was the start of a whole new life.

She went to live with Ngamu at her home in outer West Auckland, a semirural property that's often full of her children, grandchildren, friends and other family.

There are comfy couches, a fully stocked pantry, sheep meandering in the paddock next door - and Kemp has a room of her own.

Kemp hasn't had security, stability or support like this since before she met Curtis when she was 12.

"I've never had this before," she said, and you get the sense that she still can't believe she's got a home that isn't a cell, a car or is shared with drug addicts and misfits.

Since living with Ngamu she's been off drugs: the only time she has been clean since she was 12.

She's been out of trouble - apart from a minor shoplifting conviction - and it's the first time she can remember that she's not been on bail or under supervision, conditions or monitoring.

Elaine Ngamu stepped in to support Oriwa Kemp when no one else would. Picture: Michael Craig
Elaine Ngamu stepped in to support Oriwa Kemp when no one else would. Picture: Michael Craig

Ngamu remembers the phone call that effectively changed Kemp's life.

"I got a phone call from her lawyer asking if I had a bed available and at first I thought Oriwa Kemp, maybe no," she said.

"But it was the way the lawyer spoke to me and basically said, 'Look, someone's got to give her a chance,' so I said yes.

"I thought I could always kick her out if I don't end up liking her, but she's been with me all year.

"I think Oriwa knows she can't just pull the wool over my eyes - you can't trick a trickster."

Ngamu said Kemp had changed dramatically while living under her roof, and her wing.

"Since she's been with me she's wanting to grasp at anything that could benefit her.

"She's been coming to Te Reo with me - she's just jumped into everything.

"She did a four-week program here with Community Alcohol and Drug Services, completed it and then she started it again.

"I didn't know her before, only what I'd read, so I don't know how 'bad' she's ever been, but I just love the way she's always wanting to learn more, to know more."

Ngamu said Kemp's life for the past 10 years had been punctuated by domestic violence and poor choices.

The drugs didn't help.

Novi Marikena at Hoani Waititi Marae. Marikena has been supporting Oriwa Kemp. Picture: Michael Craig
Novi Marikena at Hoani Waititi Marae. Marikena has been supporting Oriwa Kemp. Picture: Michael Craig

For the first time, Kemp has been learning to focus on herself - she's not throwing all of her energy into a bad relationship, a man, the bad influences.

"She needs to recover from that, forgive herself - that's going to be a biggie," Ngamu said.

"Not just forgiving herself about the whole Nia Glassie case, but about losing her children.

"Sometimes I look at her like she's still a teenager. She's actually a really sweet girl. She tries to put on the old tough act when she's around guys, but she doesn't do a great job at that.

"She's just a kid really, she's 27, she's so young and she's got her whole life in front of her."

Ngamu is willing to support Kemp as long as she stays on the right track.

Things are different than when she had her other children; the old Oriwa was no more.

"Going off the rails and at the same time, losing her mother, probably was the catalyst for how her life has panned out," Ngamu said.

"I would love for Oriwa to keep this baby.

"She's got a lot of supports around her, but I also believe that she knows in herself too that if things got too tough for her she would tell someone - she would tell me.

"There is a fear she may 'do the same thing to her own child' but I can't see her harming a child now, let alone her own."

Ngamu, who spends most days with or near Kemp - she says she is somewhat of a hybrid mum and aunty, and the closest thing to a parent the 27-year-old's ever really had - said she would also love for the judging to stop.

She hoped that Kemp speaking out would help people understand her real story - not just judge her on the gory highlight.

"She's always been silenced and a lot of people have said 'don't let her talk to the media' but when she gives birth everyone else will speak to the media, and again it's going to be Oriwa that doesn't - and she gets silenced again," she said.

"I'm glad she's spoken. I know that she's wanted to for a long time."

Media coverage of her life has a huge impact on Kemp - it deepens her shame, takes her back to the dark places she has been and unsettles the new life she's working hard to forge.

She accepts that her name is well known, that her offending will haunt her forever, but she wants a chance to put her life right.

"When there's something on Facebook or in the paper, she'll read every comment," Ngamu said.

"She punishes herself, she knows. She doesn't respond to any of the comments but she'll read them, she'll cry, she'll cry all night, then she'll read some more."

Ngamu has become somewhat of a voice for Kemp, who isn't keen on sharing too much of herself with people she doesn't completely trust.

When Ngamu speaks, Kemp watches intently, the appreciation of having a strong protector in her life is easy to see in her face.

"She doesn't try and excuse anything she's done in her past," Ngamu said.

"And she'll continue to punish herself. But she's not a monster."


When Ngamu told her team at the Hoani Waititi Marae that she was "taking on" Kemp, the reception was frosty, to say the least.

She'd heard it all from her family already - "if she's here, my kids won't be coming to the house" - so she was prepared.

She was also prepared to fight for Kemp.

Marae trustee Novi Marikena couldn't understand why; all he could think of was little Nia and the monsters that killed her.

He didn't want one anywhere near the marae (Maori meeting place), which he says is built around community and children.

There's a Maori kindergarten at Hoani Waititi and a school, so Marikena was naturally concerned.

When Kemp arrived with Ngamu the first day, she was a mess.

Marikena says she was "fried": high on meth - defensive and crass.

"I won't lie and I've said it to Oriwa herself - I had preconceptions and I had my own opinion," he said.

"Nia Glassie was very much a highlighted case. As a grandfather, I've got heaps of mokos (grandchildren) who are my world. It almost brought be to tears seeing the abuse that child went through. It was horrific.

"But Elaine said meet her first, talk to her.

"We try not to judge here on the marae but in that case it was hard.

"I met Oriwa to see her as Oriwa, not as what the media had portrayed her and it was quite heartbreaking, seeing a Maori girl with truckloads of potential who made some wrong choices in her younger years."

Marikena said Kemp was a tearaway youth, hard to control, attracted to the party scene, gangsters and "all the bravado and testosterone that goes with that".

"At the age of 12 she was fascinated by bullshit and she engaged in that," he said.

"The reality is this girl wasn't given the support that she should've been as a child, at 12.

"If that had been done, even in a hard way, where she was taken away, who knows where she would be today?

"I'm not negating her choices or trying to validate what she did - but she had a baby at 13 and she was allowed to keep it - where was the support for her?

"You can't tell me that CYF (Child, Youth and Family) and the police didn't know what type of household that she was living in with that baby - high drug use, gang culture, absolute dysfunction.

"She's had to do a lot of growing up in a very negative model - and she paid the ultimate price for that.

"She's still paying the price for that today."

Marikena has asked Kemp "straight up" about Nia - and said she's always been open and honest.

She's also been brutally honest about her other mistakes and choices and her desire to get clean, stay clean and make a decent life for herself.

He believes she was "failed" by authorities at 12.

There is no way she should have been left in a house with Curtis, with a baby, with Kuka and co.

"The system has got a lot to answer for," Marikena said.

"I'm not making excuses for her - but she was a child, she was in a relationship at 12.

"There was a whole lot of dysfunctionality happening there."

In the past nine months, Kemp has shown a different side of herself.

She's not a surly, aggressive offender anymore. Marikena said she's blossomed into a confident woman with potential to change her life and make a positive contribution to society.

"Here, this is her place to get some sort of respite, some sort of support, some sort of belief - because until now it seems there's been none," he said.

"No one's ever told her she could do whatever she wants.

"When she's here on the marae, Oriwa is herself.

"She's got a dynamic personality and when she's comfortable with people she laughs all day, she sings all day, she works - she's part of the whanau (community) here and everybody loves her. That's why she's comfortable here."

Kemp's dream is to be a kohanga (kindergarten) teacher, but she knows that will likely never happen.

Marikena said she wasn't allowed at the marae's kindergarten or school, but he trusted her implicitly with children otherwise.

"My mokopuna (grandchildren) are my life. I would leave my mokopuna with her, unsupervised and not worry," he said. "I know they'd be looked after."

For months Marikena and Ngamu worked with Kemp on arrangements for her new baby.

They both firmly believe that the best place for baby is with his mother.

Marikena said the baby could be the making of Kemp, who was happy to bow to any checks and balances the authorities put in place to protect the infant.

Unlike her other babies, this one was born to a clean, stable mother who had a solid support structure and "heaps of nannies and kuia (Maori women)" to help out.

"She wants to be a mum - ultimately that's what she wants," Marikena said.

"She can't make up the years or the four kids that are already gone, but somewhere along the line she needs to be able to balance the ledger and to show 'I can do this'.

"But as long as the system is hammering her and keeps pulling her back to that dark space, without giving any consideration around what brought her to that point, what was happening in her life ... she needs to be given a chance, to be given a real shot.

"When she got to Elaine's she felt like she was worthless - there was no value to her at all.

"The system portrayed her as a piece of sh*t and that's what she wore - but with the interaction and the supports that she's had, particularly with Elaine and her whanau (community), you can see that self esteem building in her again."

Marikena said Kemp "absolutely deserves a chance" to show that she is not the person she was when Nia died, or when her other kids were born.

"She's worried, she wants this baby. She's got the support system where she is to help her through that.

"She wants to put her baby into kohanga reo (kindergarten), she wants to keep her baby in Maoridom and she wants to be able to go through that system with her baby.

"And hopefully within that process, mend that bridge for her other children - but she can't go forward until she gets an opportunity to show that she can do it.

"If you're going to keep pulling her back, she's going to keep staying in that place, and I don't think there's anything that can validate doing that to her.

"If the system take away her baby again they're just going to pull her back into a dark space - again."

Marikena wants people to step back and understand Kemp before judging her.

She's had a decade of that now, he said, and it was time to clip the ticket.

"Stop highlighting her as a taniwha (monster)," he said.

"I want to see her move into life. I'd like to see her be a mum and I think she'd be a good mum, I really do.

"I think she'd be an attentive mother, a loving mother and a doting mother.

"And she needs the opportunity to correct the wrongs that have happened to her in her life.

"I would just like to see where this kid can go, because I think the opportunities, if they are given to her and she's in this space of light not getting pulled into that shadow, I think she would do very well."

Marikena said he was "very proud" of Kemp.

"I think if the system was fair and they put in the checks and balances, whatever that looks like, and actually affords her the opportunity of showing her change … this is a turning point in her life, it can either be a positive or a negative."


This article originally appeared on the NZ Herald and was reproduced with permission.