A man who adopted the persona of an 11-year-old lesbian girl called Maddie to chat to girls via Twitter, was sentenced in October 2019 to four years and six months’ imprisonment. It is the second prosecution under ‘Carly’s Law’ since the legislation was introduced in 2017.
Carly’s Law remembers 15-year-old Carly Ryan, who was murdered in 2007 by a 50-year-old paedophile posing online as an 18-year-old. The offence provisions specifically target online predators who disguise their identity online, while preparing or planning to cause harm, procure, or engage in sexual activity with a child. The provisions also give police powers to intervene earlier to prevent predatory acts against children.
In this case, the court heard that Matthew John O’Hara (35) used Twitter to chat with four girls aged between eight and 13-years-old, while pretending to be an 11-year-old girl. He regularly sexualised the conversation, and asked the girls to send him nude pictures of themselves. He also sent his victims adult pornography and sexually explicit images of children.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) was tipped off by the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children about child exploitation material being uploading to various Twitter accounts. They were able to identify that these accounts belonged to Matthew O’Hara.
On 1 November 2018, the AFP searched Mr O’Hara’s residence in Cloverdale, Western Australia and found a number of devices that contained child sexual exploitation material. These included:
• six images on an iPhone
• 630 images on a laptop
• 703,939 images and 724 videos on a hard drive.
The AFP interviewed Mr O’Hara at the time and he made full and frank admissions about his offending.
In sentencing, His Honour Chief Judge Sleight described Mr O’Hara as “a lonely, vulnerable person” who had “reverted unfortunately to accessing child pornography and engaging in communications with children on Twitter ... to meet … emotional and sexual needs”.
He said an aggravating feature of Mr O’Hara’s offending was that it was of a corruptive nature. He said the sexualised chats Mr O’Hara engaged in exposed the children to pornographic material. “In relation to each victim you engaged in conduct, which was likely to cause confusion as to their sexuality, and certainly distort their moral and appropriate sexual behaviour compass.”
A court-ordered psychological report indicated Mr O'Hara had little appreciation of the harm suffered by the children in both the images and videos he was in possession of, and those he engaged in sexually explicit exchanges with on Twitter.
In total, Mr O’Hara was charged with 17 offences: three state and 14 Commonwealth. He was sentenced on 15 October 2019 in the District Court of Western Australia in Perth, and received a total effective sentence of four years and six months’ imprisonment, to serve two years and six months. The sentence was backdated by two days, to start on 13 October 2019.
Mr O’Hara received eight months imprisonment in relation to the Carly’s Law charge (s474.25C Criminal Code (Cth)).