A Nottinghamshire martial arts instructor and his actress wife have been convicted of a number of non-recent child sexual offences.
Victor Marke, who ran martial arts clubs in Nottingham and other locations, was convicted of grooming and inciting sexual activity with two underage members of the club. His wife, Zara Marke, took part in sexual offending against one of the victims.
The first survivor reported that Victor Marke had exploited opportunities when they were alone together to initiate sexual activity with her from the age of 15. The sexual activity got increasingly intense and frequent, culminating in full sexual intercourse when she turned 16. The activity only stopped when Marke began a relationship with Zara Marke, before the couple eventually married.
The second survivor reported that she had been close to the couple as a member of one of Marke’s clubs where she was coached by Zara Marke. She spent a lot of time with them as her home life was difficult and she looked up to Zara Marke because of her position at the club and her impressive background in martial arts competitions. She was groomed into sexual activity with the couple, encouraged by Zara Marke over a number of months. The abuse stopped when the survivor severed all ties with the Markes.
Both survivors reported that they had been made to feel special, but did not know what to do in the face of the sexual activity. They were both told not to tell anyone about what was happening.
The couple were charged with a total of 18 child sexual offences. Victor Marke was charge with four counts of indecent assault against the first survivor and both were charged with sexual activity with a child in relation to the second survivor. They were found guilty on all counts at Nottingham Crown Court following a three-week trial.
Nicole Hepburn from the CPS said: “This was an appalling case of exploiting a position of trust and respect to gain sexual gratification. Victor Marke ruthlessly took advantage of the age and vulnerability of these girls, as well as his status as an admired coach. He made them feel special and listened to and then abused them. Zara Marke similarly exploited her position to perpetrate child abuse.
“Both defendants have denied their actions, instead blaming the victims and accusing them of lying. Thanks to their evidence, given clearly and credibly in court, the Markes themselves have been exposed as the true liars.
“It does take courage to stand up to your abusers and give evidence in this way and I would like to express my respect and gratitude to the survivors for everything they have done to ensure the Markes are held responsible for their criminal actions. This abuse may have occurred some years ago, but that makes it no less serious and nor is it a barrier to justice. I would encourage anyone who has been abused in the past to come forward with the knowledge that the CPS will take your case seriously.”
Victor and Zara Marke will be sentenced on Monday 16 May.
Building the case:
Both survivors reported the abuse some years after it took place. In cases of non-recent sexual abuse, the evidence given by the survivors is key.
Both survivors gave clear and compelling evidence about what happened to them, and as well as their evidence, the CPS was able to present a pattern of behaviour, of Victor Marke abusing his position as a martial arts coach and behaving in a sexual manner towards underage girls who attended his clubs. Instead of demonstrating a duty of care, he acted towards them as if sexualised behaviour was his right.
As part of the prosecution’s case, myths and stereotypes were outlined to the jury, including that neither had reported the abuse at the time, that they had remained in contact with the defendants throughout the period the abuse was taking place and that because they were speaking about traumatic events from their teenage years, some details about specific dates and places were no longer clear to them.
The jury was reminded that this had no bearing on the truth of their accounts. Many people do not report abuse at the time it takes place, for very understandable reasons. Choosing to report it after the event is not a barrier to justice or any kind of indication that the survivor’s accounts are untrue.