My lit­tle girl was killed by an in­ter­net preda­tor

Ten years ago, Sonya Ryan’s daugh­ter, Carly, be­came the first Aus­tralian to be mur­dered by an on­line preda­tor. Since then, Sonya has fought tire­lessly to en­sure that those who prey on chil­dren on­line are brought to jus­tice, writes Genevieve Gan­non.

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Interview -

Sonya Ryan was only 20 years old when her daugh­ter, Carly, was born. Sonya was young and sin­gle and life, at times, was tough. When she was strug­gling to make ends meet, it was the knowl­edge that her daugh­ter needed her that gave her strength.

“In a strange kind of way, Carly saved my life a num­ber of times and gave me pur­pose when I was a young woman,” says Sonya.

“We’ve just al­ways had this re­ally strong bond. We al­ways had each other.”

In pho­tos, Carly and Sonya look like a match­ing pair. They have the same warm brown eyes and ch­est­nut hair fram­ing pretty, heart-shaped faces. Their chins are sim­i­lar and the daugh­ter’s smile is an echo of the mother’s.

As Carly grew, the bond be­tween mother and daugh­ter evolved, but never fal­tered. Sonya be­came a con­fi­dante to her teenage daugh­ter, a sharer of se­crets and a provider of wis­dom.

When Carly met a boy on­line whom she con­nected with – a mu­si­cian named “Bran­don Kane” from Mel­bourne – she didn’t hes­i­tate to tell her mother. Sonya would oc­ca­sion­ally look over her daugh­ter’s shoul­der as Carly chat­ted with the boy on her com­puter, but she never saw any­thing to alarm her. For 18 months, Carly wrote to “Bran­don” and by the time they were plan­ning to meet, Carly be­lieved her­self in love.

Trag­i­cally, there was no “Bran­don”. The ob­ject of Carly’s af­fec­tion was a cre­ation of a 50-year-old pae­dophile named Garry Fran­cis New­man, and when Carly went to meet him one evening in Fe­bru­ary 2007, he mur­dered her.

Shocked and shat­tered, Sonya strug­gled to come to grips with what had hap­pened. Carly had been her rea­son for liv­ing and now she felt her own life was over.

Eleven days af­ter Carly’s body was found, po­lice pounced on New­man. When they raided his Vic­to­rian home, he was once again on­line, chat­ting to a girl in Perth. He had 200 dif­fer­ent on­line per­sonas. Sonya vowed that she would do ev­ery­thing in her power to en­sure that no par­ent ever had to suf­fer what she did. “Some­thing re­ally special hap­pened,” says Sonya. “I kind of guess that love con­nec­tion be­tween my­self and my daugh­ter sparked this na­tional cam­paign to pro­tect chil­dren from suf­fer­ing.”

Ten years af­ter her death, a law bear­ing Carly’s name was passed in the fed­eral Par­lia­ment on June 15. Thanks to Sonya’s tire­less work, law en­force­ment of­fi­cers no longer have to wait un­til a preda­tor acts be­fore they can charge them.

In Au­gust, Carly’s Law was used for the first time. Po­lice swooped on a 35-year-old con­victed sex of­fender who they al­lege was pre­tend­ing to be a young woman on­line in or­der to groom chil­dren. The Ade­laide man is fac­ing a to­tal of 14 charges, in­clud­ing shar­ing child pornog­ra­phy and groom­ing chil­dren on­line.

“The idea that this guy has been ar­rested, taken off the in­ter­net and out of the lives of th­ese kids [gives me] a sense of huge re­lief,” says Sonya.

“I just want to jump into the next di­men­sion and hold Carly in my arms, and tell her what her legacy has done.”

Sonya now con­ducts sem­i­nars to ed­u­cate peo­ple on how to stay safe on­line. The Carly Ryan Foun­da­tion has de­vel­oped a safety app called Thread and a fam­ily in­ter­net us­age con­tract to give par­ents tools to help keep their chil­dren safe.

The United Na­tions re­cently pledged sup­port for her ef­forts and has asked Sonya to ap­pear at on­line safety sem­i­nars around the world. Mo­ti­vated by love, Sonya is charg­ing on with her mis­sion with un­blink­ing fo­cus. She has had one vic­tory, but as she tells

The Weekly, her cru­sade has only just be­gun.

Stranger dan­ger

Once, “stranger dan­ger” was some­thing that threat­ened chil­dren when they went out­side. It lurked in empty streets and de­serted parks. Kids had it drummed into them not to get into a car with a per­son they didn’t know. Yet the in­ter­net age has brought the preda­tors into our homes. And now, with smart­phones, they can reach a child in their bed­room, at all hours. “Stranger dan­ger” has be­come some­thing chil­dren carry around in their pock­ets.

The UN es­ti­mates there are up to 750,000 sex of­fend­ers on­line and in our in­ter­con­nected world, na­tional bor­ders are mean­ing­less. “They can be anony­mous,” Sonya says. “They can lit­er­ally find many hun­dreds of thou­sands of chil­dren on­line, on their phone in their bed­rooms ev­ery night. From a crim­i­nal’s per­spec­tive, what a

won­der­ful plat­form to in­fil­trate the life of an in­no­cent child.”

Sonya wants par­ents to know how eas­ily th­ese shad­owy crea­tures can ac­cess their chil­dren.

“When you come from a nor­mal func­tion­ing fam­ily, I just think you’re not pre­pared,” she says. “You can’t even imag­ine that some­one would lit­er­ally spend their wak­ing hours cre­at­ing lives that don’t ex­ist. It just doesn’t en­ter your mind.

“That’s cer­tainly what hap­pened to us.”

In 2007, this new threat had not fully re­vealed it­self. Carly was the first per­son to be mur­dered in Aus­tralia by some­one who had groomed her on­line. And it hap­pened de­spite pre­cau­tions taken by her mother.

New­man’s sub­terfuge ex­tended to the cre­ation of “Shane”, a fic­ti­tious step­fa­ther to the fake “Bran­don”. On Jan­uary 26, 2007, “Shane” at­tended Carly’s 15th birthday party in Ade­laide. He gave her a present of lin­gerie and a nurse’s out­fit. Af­ter the party, Carly told her mother that “Shane” had touched her in a sex­ual way. Sonya tracked down “Shane”’s email ad­dress and warned him to stay away.

She re­ceived an abu­sive email from the ad­dress, sa­­mando@hot­ “B**CH PLEASE!”, it be­gan. “That email was so full of lies and here­say [sic] and I am dis­gusted me [sic] that some­one of a rea­son­able in­tel­li­gence could be­lieve such crap to be true.

“The thing’s [sic] you called me were to­tally de­fam­ing and I have for­warded the email onto my so­lic­i­tor for fur­ther ac­tion.”

Sonya took away Carly’s ac­cess to the in­ter­net and con­fis­cated her phone.

“I didn’t re­alise he al­ready had his hooks in as ‘Bran­don’,” she says.

Carly had been ma­nip­u­lated and Sonya be­lieves the preda­tor would have told her to lie about where she was go­ing on the night she snuck out to meet the per­son she thought was ‘Bran­don’. “I’m sure Carly must have been think­ing, fi­nally, af­ter all this time, fi­nally she’s go­ing to meet the boy that adores her,” says Sonya, “and that’s the lure that he used to get her out of the house, away from her safety net­work.”

On Fe­bru­ary 19, Carly told her mother she was go­ing to meet up with some girl­friends and would stay overnight. She was all dressed up when she skipped off the ve­randa and called out, “Love you, Mum!”

It was the last time Sonya ever saw her alive. Carly’s body was dis­cov­ered early the next morn­ing in the shal­low wa­ter of a beach near Port El­liot in South Aus­tralia. She had 19 sep­a­rate in­juries from at least six to eight blows to the head. An au­topsy found she had died as a re­sult of drown­ing as­so­ci­ated with cran­io­fa­cial trauma.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve that New­man pum­melled Carly so se­verely ei­ther with his fists or a blunt instrument – foren­sic sci­en­tists could not be sure which – that she was most likely un­con­scious when she was left face down in the wa­ter.

“Even now I can’t be­lieve what un­folded,” Sonya says. “When I talk, I feel like I’m telling a story out of a movie – a hor­ror movie. This is real. This is re­al­ity, this is ev­ery­thing that Carly has lost. Still talk­ing about it to­day, it seems un­real.”

Af­ter he killed Carly, New­man didn’t stop. “Bran­don” was chat­ting to a girl in Perth when po­lice raided his home.

“When they opened his draw­ers, there were lit­er­ally books, pages and pages, of fake ages, fake names, fake pass­words,” Sonya says.

“The lengths he went to to get his hands on Carly were just some­thing [po­lice had] never seen be­fore. He used looped live vi­sion of a boy ac­tu­ally typ­ing.”

Th­ese days, the sight of pass­word records and ma­te­rial to sup­port the cre­ation of on­line per­sonas would not shock law en­force­ment of­fi­cers. Not only is on­line groom­ing more com­mon, the preda­tors are more so­phis­ti­cated. Sonya says pae­dophiles are now mak­ing con­tact with chil­dren on­line and meet­ing up with them within a mat­ter of weeks.

Fol­low­ing the Au­gust ar­rest of the 35-year-old Ade­laide man, Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice Com­man­der Lesa Gale said Carly’s Law had po­ten­tially saved a life. “Sonya cam­paigned tire­lessly for a law that would give po­lice more power to in­ter­vene be­fore a preda­tor has a chance to act,” Com­man­der Gale said.

The leg­is­la­tion is “fun­da­men­tal” to po­lice be­ing able to pro­tect chil­dren from harm, she said.

Se­na­tor Skye Kakoschke-Moore, from the Nick Xenophon Team, who tabled the Carly’s Law bill in Par­lia­ment, says an im­por­tant gap in leg­is­la­tion has been closed. “Dur­ing the past seven or eight years, when Sonya had been cam­paign­ing, law en­force­ment agen­cies, par­tic­u­larly the AFP, were cry­ing out be­cause they saw the need,” she says.

I didn’t re­alise he had his hooks in as ‘Bran­don’.

“The way the law works now is if you’re an adult and you’re us­ing a car­riage ser­vice like the in­ter­net to com­mu­ni­cate with a child un­der 16, and in that com­mu­ni­ca­tion you’re plan­ning to or pre­par­ing to cause harm to that child, then you’re caught by Carly’s Law. We’ve cap­tured the ly­ing about their age quite clearly in the leg­is­la­tion.”

Hav­ing achieved this, Sonya is still liv­ing and fight­ing for her daugh­ter. “She was so lov­ing and trust­ing, and very for­giv­ing,” says Sonya.

“She was the kind of child who would al­ways come to me and say things like, ‘My friend’s up­set,’ or ‘I’m wor­ried about my friend, what can I do?’ She was al­ways very com­pas­sion­ate and car­ing.”

In ad­di­tion to her ef­forts to ed­u­cate about on­line safety, Sonya is lob­by­ing pol­icy mak­ers to re­view cur­rent sen­tenc­ing prac­tises for child abusers. “There’s no use hav­ing this leg­is­la­tion if when th­ese creeps get

When it comes to pro­tect­ing chil­dren, the sky’s the limit.

into the sys­tem, they’re get­ting a sus­pended or very min­i­mal sen­tence, and that’s kind of the next step,” she says.

In this bat­tle, she has Se­na­tor Kakoschke-Moore be­hind her.

“The Nick Xenophon Team will al­ways sup­port Sonya when she’s do­ing work in this space be­cause we know what she’s been through and she’s clearly iden­ti­fied where the laws are weak,” Se­na­tor Kakoschke-Moore said.

The Se­na­tor may well have her work cut out for her.

“Who knows where this is go­ing to end up?” says Sonya. “As far as I’m con­cerned, when it comes to pro­tect­ing chil­dren, the sky’s the limit.

“I’ll do any­thing to make sure that doesn’t hap­pen again.”

ABOVE: Sonya Ryan. OP­PO­SITE: Carly, aged six, with her mum; a school pho­to­graph of Carly at 14, the year be­fore her mur­der.

Garry Fran­cis New­man has been jailed for life, with a non-pa­role pe­riod of 29 years, for killing Carly Ryan in 2007.

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