25 February 2022

Boy tried to stop family friend before being sexually assaulted on a cruise ship

| Albert McKnight
John Brown

John Ronald Brown, 49, approaches court on Friday morning. Photo: Albert McKnight.

Content warning: this story includes details of childhood sexual abuse.

Despite his young victim telling him to stop, a man pursued his friend’s son before his behaviour was revealed aboard a cruise ship.

John Ronald Brown, 49, pleaded guilty to a charge of having a sexual relationship with a child before appearing in the ACT Supreme Court on Friday (25 February).

Court documents say he became friends with his victim’s family before committing his crimes in 2019 when the boy was under 16 years old.

One night, Brown began asking the boy about his sexual experiences. Later, Brown exposed his genitals to the boy and demanded oral sex. The boy told him “no”.

Several nights later, Brown asked the boy to come into a bedroom and made him perform oral sex.

They texted each other that same night, and the boy told him: “Never repeat it.”

“We are going back to square one,” he said.

“Deal,” Brown said.

“Never talk or seem weird about it. I mean it,” the boy said.

Later, Brown and the boy’s family took a Pacific cruise together.

The boy was sleeping in his cabin when Brown came in, woke him up and touched his genitals. Again, the boy tried to end his behaviour.

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“John, this has got to stop,” the boy told him.

He felt sick about what Brown was doing and stopped eating. They were still on board the cruise ship when the boy’s father later saw Brown expose himself to his son.

The boy’s parents asked him if something was happening between them and he said yes.

The mother then confronted Brown and asked if he’d been “touching” her son. He replied “yes”, but he tried to blame the boy by saying he had started it.

That night, the parents talked to their son while aboard the ship and told him they were there for him and supported him.

Brown’s barrister John Purnell SC said he worked for a travel agency business. He had been scheduled to be sentenced on Friday, but instead, the court heard a lengthy argument over an opinion by psychologist Dr Boer.

Justice Michael Elkaim said Dr Boer had written a report where he said he believed Brown had been suffering from a mental impairment at the time of the offending, being major depressive disorder and alcohol use disorder.

Dr Boer said the combination meant he thought Brown didn’t know his conduct at the time was wrong, nor could he control his behaviour.

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Justice Elkaim said this meant the doctor believed Brown was not guilty by reason of mental impairment and “this is entirely inconsistent with a plea of guilty”.

Mr Purnell wanted to rely on the opinion for mitigation of sentence, but Justice Elkiam said this left him “uncomfortable” because either Brown had a mental impairment at the time or he did not, and if he did then his plea shouldn’t be accepted.

The Crown wanted its own medical opinion and Justice Elkaim granted an adjournment to acquire it. He continued Brown’s bail, listed the matter for a mention in March and for hearing on 25 May.

If this story has raised any concerns for you, 1800RESPECT, the national 24-hour sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling line, can be contacted on 1800 737 732. Help and support are also available through The Canberra Rape Crisis Centre 02 6247 2525, The Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT 02 6280 0900, Lifeline 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline 1800 551 800. In an emergency call 000.

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