CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses a sexual assault.
A man who sexually assaulted his friend, leaving her feeling like she had been “murdered”, was spared being sent to jail when he was sentenced.
Thomas Earle, 26, was found guilty of committing an act of indecency without consent and sexual intercourse without consent at the end of his ACT Supreme Court jury trial.
In sentencing remarks, Chief Justice Lucy McCallum said he had met his victim on a dating app in 2021, but they became friends and she went on to confide in him that she had been experiencing sexual harassment at work.
That December, she invited him over to her home and they ate dinner, drank alcohol, smoked marijuana, consumed ‘jungle juice’ and watched a movie.
She eventually went to bed and fell asleep while he stayed downstairs.
It was 2 am when she awoke to find him with his hand inside her underwear, touching her genitals.
Chief Justice McCallum said as the victim had been asleep, he must have known that she did not consent to being touched in that way.
Earle removed the victim’s underwear while she said she felt frozen and stiff. He then raped her, while she described feeling “like a ragdoll”.
After a couple of minutes, she said “wait, wait, wait”, then he stopped and asked if she was okay.
“The victim responded that the offender had taken her by surprise, to which he laughed and apologised,” Chief Justice McCallum said.
She said it was clear the victim had been “absolutely devastated by the offences” and “her life as she knew it has been torn apart”.
“I feel like I have been murdered, but my body has been left alive,” the victim previously told the court.
At the end of his trial, Earle had also been acquitted of two other counts of sexual intercourse without consent, which were alleged to have taken place just before the rape.
Chief Justice McCallum said the issue of consent in sexual relations can be “messy” and, unfortunately, the victim’s freeze response had created confusion, which the jury must have found due to their verdicts.
She said Earle had honestly but mistakenly believed there had been consent to the first two sex acts, then he “did not turn his mind to that important question before moving to a different sexual act”.
The result was “tragic indeed”, she said.
She had no doubt that the victim’s experience was extremely traumatic, but also said Earle’s “state of mind did not match the degree of trauma he caused by his conduct”.
“[He] is not in the category of an offender who has persisted with sexual violence in the face of protest or a known lack of consent,” she said.
Chief Justice McCallum said that outside of the offences, Earle was of good character, had strong pro-social influences, was raised in a loving family and had no criminal history. He was not a risk to the victim, future partners or the community.
He has also been diagnosed with a major depressive disorder and has extremely high suicidal ideation.
Earle had alleged he had suffered from extra-curial punishment due to the media reporting of his trial, claiming the reports triggered feelings of shame.
Chief Justice McCallum said while the media attention must have been upsetting to him and his family, that was an ordinary incident of the principal of open justice.
Earle was convicted and sentenced to three years’ jail to be served via an intensive corrections order in the community.
He must also perform 300 hours of community service and complete 20 hours of counselling.
If you or someone you know needs help, you can contact:
Lifeline’s 24-hour crisis support line – 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline – 1800 551 800 or kidshelpline.com.au
MensLine Australia – 1300 789 978 or mensline.org.au
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