Sunday Territorian




Amother whose daughter was murdered by a pedophile posing as an 18-year-old online love interest has joined other grieving families in demanding national laws targeting catfishing.

Carly Ryan was just 15 when Gary Francis Newman, who had more than 200 fake online identities, lured the teen to a deserted beach where he bashed and choked her, leaving her to drown.

The 50-year-old Victorian IT worker had posed as a musician named Brandon Kane before striking up an online relationsh­ip with Carly.

“My daughter was murdered by an online predator. It was the first crime of its type in Australia,” Carly’s devastated mother Sonya Ryan said.

“(But) in the groundless grief of losing my girl, I knew I had to do something to help prevent the same suffering happening to another innocent child.”

Since her daughter’s death in 2007, during a time when no one really understood how dangerous the internet could be, Ms Ryan turned her grief into action. In 2017, Carly’s Law was passed, giving police power to intervene before predators have a chance to act by making it a criminal offence for adults to lie to a child online with the intent of causing them harm.

And while

“catfishing” – where a person creates a fictional persona or fake identity to trick someone online – was not a term in 2007, Ms Ryan said that was what happened to her daughter.

“Laws must be proactive and preventive … people need to be held responsibl­e for their actions online just as we are held accountabl­e for our actions offline,” she said. “The consequenc­es of those harmful behaviours are the same. I believe Carly’s Law could be used or amended to be used in criminal cases of this type.”

Professor Marilyn McMahon from the

Deakin Law School said while there was no specific crime of catfishing in

Australia, some of the behaviours involved in the practice may involve some offences, including stalking and financial fraud.

“The developmen­t of online and text communicat­ions has, however, profoundly increased the opportunit­y for, and levels of, deceptive activity,” Professor McMahon said.

But in catfishing cases like Renae Marsden, where it involved psychologi­cal and emotional abuse or manipulati­on, it can be much more difficult to obtain conviction­s.

In 2013, Ms Marsden, 20, took her own life after falling for the fake online persona “Brayden Spiteri”. Masqueradi­ng as Brayden – in thousands of messages – was Ms Marsden’s high school friend Camila Zeidan.

At the inquest into her death, Deputy State

Coroner Elaine Truscott fell short of saying the act of catfishing should be illegal, adding that further examinatio­n was required.

Ms Marsden’s distraught parents Mark and Teresa Marsden posted a petition on last month, supporting their push to have people who impersonat­e others online to legally be held to account.

“How can we as a society stand back and watch someone mentally, emotionall­y, and psychologi­cally destroy another person and not be held accountabl­e under any jurisdicti­on or law?” Mr Marsden said.

NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said coercive control laws – specifical­ly targeting humiliatio­n, intimidati­on, financial abuse and constant criticism – would be able to outlaw catfishing.

However, Professor McMahon said it would be difficult to use these laws in catfishing cases.

“Laws criminalis­ing coercive control only apply to particular intimate relationsh­ips, typically partners, ex-partners, people living together,” she said.

Federal Communicat­ions Minister Paul Fletcher said the government’s new Online Safety Act, which comes into force in January, would “strengthen the hand” of the eSafety Commission­er in a range of areas, including cyber abuse, which could capture elements of catfishing.

The government is now taking submission­s from the public about catfishing and any other threats to online safety, and what steps platforms should take to address these harms.

Catfishing features in the new upcoming eight-part podcast Eye

Spy, which delves into the world of private investigat­ors.

The guns for hire reveal fascinatin­g and hair-raising cases, from catching cheaters to being jailed in foreign countries while rescuing abducted children.

 ??  ?? Sonya Ryan (above), her daughter Carly (right) and Mark and Teresa Marsden, who lost their daughter Renae.
Sonya Ryan (above), her daughter Carly (right) and Mark and Teresa Marsden, who lost their daughter Renae.

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