Carly's law would make it a crime for an adult to lie about their age to a minor online.
Rani Chaleyer

The Feed
11 Aug 2016 - 7:57 PM  UPDATED 11 Jan 2017 - 1:28 PM

"I heard the squeaking of the wheels of the trolley and I walked into a room with a curtain. I just stood there with my family, and they pulled it back and there was my daughter. Her fists were clenched, her jaw was clenched, she was beaten. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I fell to the ground."

Sonya Ryan's daughter Carly was the first girl in Australia to be murdered by an online predator. She was 15 at the time, in 2007.

Since 2006 she had been communicating with who she believed to be 20 year old Texan musician Brandon, who told her he was living in Melbourne. They were in frequent contact for 18 months.

"Carly was super excited that she'd met this boy online," said Sonia. "One day she came to me and said “Mum I think I’ve got feelings for this boy …I really like him and I would love for you to meet his dad.”

Brandon turned out to  be the creation of Gary Frances Newman, 50, who created the alter-ego of Brandon to seduce young women. Gary posed as Brandon's stepfather Shane and travelled to Adelaide to meet with Carly.

"He was using a fake name. He showed me a security license with all fake details," Sonia recalled. "He went to so much trouble to decieve us."

After Carly rejected his sexual advances, he arranged to meet her, took her to a beach at Port Elliot, and murdered her.

During the subsequent trial, it was revealed Newman was operating 200 fake profiles of young men online to lure girls.

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It's estimated that there are more than 750,000 child sex predators online at any one time. In 2014 alone, the AFP received 5617 reports that directly involved Australians.

One study found that 24 per cent of minors who agreed to meet up with someone from the internet who has claimed to be child, had turned out to be an adult.

Sonia Ryan has since founded the Carly Ryan Foundation, which promotes online safety nationally throughout schools and organisations.

They have been lobbying to pass Carly's Law, which would make it a criminal offence for a person over the age of 18 to misrepresent their age to child online in order to meet them.

Current grooming laws need to prove sexual intention for police to be able to arrest an individual.

"Ultimately, we want to prevent suffering, so we want to give more power to the police to detain a potentially dangerous criminal before they harm a child," said Sonia.

The law was rejected by the Senate in 2014 for being "too broad in its application", and that it might also capture individuals who were just intellectually disabled or developmentally delayed.

"You can have all kinds of situations arise which are not criminal, which do not result in harm to the person to whom the representations made, and I think that’s really what the major problem is with this," said Nicholas Cowdery.

"Police always want more power," said Cowdery. "They may have the best intentions but if you give greatly enlarged powers to police officers and law enforcement then there are going to be unintented consequences of that too.

Sonia doesn't believe this was a satisfactory result.

"It almost seemed as though it was in the ‘too hard’ basket for parliament and it really puzzled me," she said. "I've spoken to different police who have said that this could make a real difference."

Senator Nick Xenophon, who has backed the law in parliament, still believes reform is necessary.

"Some of the concers were fair enough of how it would work on a technical level, but ultimately the law needs to change because currently there is a massive loophole".

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