Schoolgirl who was raped aged 13 by a predator she met on a family camping trip was BANNED from speaking about her abuse - while he was slapped on the wrist and taken off the sex offenders register thanks to Victoria's twisted laws that protect paedophiles
A woman who was groomed and sexually assaulted from the age of 13 watched on in horror as her abuser avoided jail time despite pleading guilty to repeatedly raping her.
Ashleigh Rae Cooper was just 13 when she met Michael Johnson on a family camping trip in 2004. She was in grade eight at school, and he was 18.
2004年，阿什利·雷·库珀(Ashleigh Rae Cooper)在一次家庭露营旅行中遇到迈克尔·约翰逊(Michael Johnson)时只有13岁。她在学校上八年级，他18岁。
Within weeks of that initial encounter, Johnson began molesting her.
'He would drive me to an area where I had no idea where I was. There would be no houses or street lights. If I got out of his Jeep I had no mobile, and no way of getting home,' she said.
'It involved oral, digital, and penile rape.'
Johnson admitted his crimes in court, but walked away without serving a day in prison and was eventually struck off the sex offenders registry.
Despite being a victim herself, Ashleigh, from Belgrave in Victoria, could have been prosecuted under the state's draconian gag laws which effectively silence victims.
She was only able to speak out about her abuse after joining Nina Funnell's #LetUsSpeak campaign, which is a partnership between End Rape on Campus Australia, Marque Lawyers and Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy.
The campaign helped her in obtaining a court order to exempt her from the gag laws.
'This [law] is a deterrent for survivors to come forward. And its a very real incentive for men to keep offending,' Ashleigh told Daily Mail Australia.
'It's genuinely a masterful job at gaslighting survivors.'
Ashleigh decided to go to the police about her assault in 2014 but she claims no action was taken because the statute of limitations had expired, limiting her options in reporting the crime.
'It was crushing. It takes a lot for any person to walk into a police station to ask for help, but with sexual assault it's even harder, especially when you haven't worked through all the issues of shame. So to be dismissed like that, well, I don't have a word for it,' she said.
Ashleigh's mental health deteriorated in the years to follow, until eventually in 2017 she decided to contact police again.
'I came home one day after I'd had a huge panic attack and instead of falling apart on the couch, I found myself in a police station again, asking for help,' she explained.
At the time, she suffered from Complex PTSD, flashbacks, night terrors, dissociation and anxiety.
The laws in Victoria had been changed in the two years since she initially reported her assault, and Johnson was finally charged.
OnJanuary 20, the now 34-year-old pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual penetration of a child under 16, and one count of an indecent act with a child.
The offences spanned across 2004 and 2005, the court heard.
In spite of the extensive testimonials and Ashleigh's victim impact statement, a court in May 20202 ruled Johnson should not spend a single day behind bars.
'When the sentence was handed down, I found out that even though each charge carried up to 10 years jail, all he would get was 200 hours of community work, 50 of which could be spent on his own treatment,' Ashleigh said.
'That's less than 20 days community work for repeatedly raping me as a child.'
Detectives had warned her he likely wouldn't receive a custodial sentence, but hearing the verdict was gut-wrenching all the same.
'[Knowing] helped me cope and be prepared, it stopped me from falling into a complete mess,' she said.
'But I froze when it was handed down. I couldn't move my body and cried uncontrollably in the court room. I was devastated.'
Ashleigh was supported by her long term partner and a victim support worker, but her parents and confidantes weren't welcome in the court due to stringent COVID-19 protocols which had been put in place.
'What happened to me had been repeatedly minimised and dismissed, and this made it feel like it was happening all over again,' she said.
The only part of the process that offered any solace to Ashleigh was the judge's decision to have Johnson's name placed on the sex offender registry for life.
'He would have to face what he did – not in the same way that I've had to face it and live with it every single day – but at a minimum, he would have to check in with police every 12 months for the rest of his life,' Ashleigh explained of the decision.
'That let me know that he'd have to think about what he did to me at least once a year.'
Ashleigh said she and her partner left court finally believing they could put the trauma behind them and start rebuilding their lives.
'We thought we could finally breathe again. We'd been in this holding pattern and felt really paralysed, we were always waiting on a court date or waiting on something.
'We were really just grappling with the trauma of going through that court process together.'
Ashleigh said it was after sentencing that she started seriously considering taking her story public to help seek change for other victims.
But two months after the sentence was handed down, and before Johnson even had his first annual check in, a change inVictoria's Sex Offender Registry Act meant certain sex offenders could apply for an exemption to the registry.
The criteria was designed for offenders who claimed they were in a 'relationship' with their victim - who had to be over the age of 14 at the time of the offences.
Ashleigh was just 13 when the abuse started, as agreed upon by the courts, and yet she learned Johnson had been charged as though she was 14.
Within a month, his exemption had been approved.
'I was so shocked and taken aback that I screamed. I cried and shouted. I was furious and I didn't really believe it,' she said.
'Any justice I got had been undone. At a personal level it felt like the courts were saying the rapes didn't happen at all.'
She was handed a second blow when she was informed that the Victorian government had tightened laws surrounding victims sharing their stories.
In short, Ashleigh could have been sentenced to four months actual imprisonment or fined more than $3,000 for using her own name and sharing her own story.
'The thing about sexual violence is that it thrives on silence and shame,' she said of the decision.
'And that is what this law has done. There are young people watching this in the public arena, and the message they're getting is that they will lose the right to their own name.
'It actually places the government on the side of the perpetrator because it silences the survivors.'
Ashleigh was supported by Nina Funnell's #LetUsSpeak campaign, which raised money to advocate for sexual assault survivors in court after Victoria passed changes to the Judicial proceedings and reports act 1958, which essentially gagged survivors of sexual abuse.
阿什利得到了妮娜·芬内尔(Nina Funnell)#LetUsSak运动的支持，该运动在维多利亚通过对1958年司法程序和报告法(Justice Processing And Reports Act)的修改后，筹集资金在法庭上倡导性侵犯幸存者，该法案基本上封堵了性虐待幸存者的嘴巴。
Funnell first shared Ashleigh's story after helping to secure her a court order which allowed her to use her real name and photograph.
Two other victims have been granted similar approvals. But seven more are still waiting.
When Ashleigh learned of the law which demanded her silence, she told Daily Mail Australia she realised she needed to have 'a really serious discussion with my partner'.
'I said ''I've been criminalised. I could go to jail for four months, we don't have the money to pay fines'', and I had to think about whether this is something that I'm willing to go to jail for,' she said.
'It was a terrifying conversation to have.'
In the end, the couple jointly decided they would do whatever it took to get the order overturned.
Flanked by the lawyers involved in the #LetUsSpeak campaign, which Ashleigh described as 'fantastic' and 'the epitome of how lawyers should be when dealing with trauma', Ashleigh was able to plead her case to the court.
And the judge sided with her, granting her immunity to share her story.
'I was so happy that I was, ironically, speechless,' she said.
While there were hiccups along the way, including a devastating error which saw Ashleigh's abuser notified about her court application, she's now focused on putting one foot in front of the other and sharing her story.
The legislation gagging survivors must be changed, she said, if the government wants to show their support for victims.