8 March 2024

'Obvious' power imbalance: 23-year-old jailed for repeatedly raping 15-year-old girl

| Albert McKnight
Coat of Arms

Lwen Pah Eh, 26, was sentenced to over two years’ jail by the ACT Supreme Court. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

CONTENT WARNING: This article refers to child abuse.

A 23-year-old who repeatedly sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl, including raping her despite her pleas for him to stop, has been jailed.

On 1 March, the ACT Supreme Court sentenced Lwen Pah Eh, now 26, to two years and three months in jail with a non-parole period of one year and three months.

He and the girl decided they would start dating in 2021, but they had to meet in secret to hide it from her parents.

The first time he raped her was in his car and he didn’t stop when she asked him to.

“She felt shattered and worthless. She had intended to wait until marriage before having sex,” Acting Justice Peter Berman said in his sentencing remarks.

Over the following months, she regularly snuck out of her house and had sex with him, even after she tried to stop seeing him.

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The girl stopped talking to him in 2022 but discussed what had happened to her with her friends.

“In October 2022, she realised that what had happened with the offender was not right and she had not been able to process it properly at the time as she was only 15 years of age,” Acting Justice Berman said.

She sent a message to Pah Eh, and in his reply he said, “[I]f you don’t do it with a girl, someone else will, and if you don’t stop when a girl says to, they will fall in love with you”.

The apprentice painter was arrested later that year and went on to plead guilty to a charge of persistent sexual abuse of a young person under special care.

Acting Justice Berman said the girl had been at least reluctant, if not unwilling.

“The offender appears to have regarded the complainant’s objections and what she wanted as largely irrelevant,” he said.

“I have no doubt that she grieves for what the offender did.”

He also said the girl was a schoolgirl living with her parents who had never even kissed another person, while Pah Eh was an adult with a car and a job. The “maturity and power imbalance is obvious”, he said.

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Pah Eh was born in a Karen refugee camp in Thailand and emigrated to Australia when he was 16 to live with his siblings. He then began attending a church in the ACT that holds a regular service for the local Karen community.

The Karen are an ethnic group from southern Myanmar.

Acting Justice Berman said Pah Eh had to sneak out of the refugee camp to find food, his father died young and his mother abandoned him. A psychologist described him as a “naïve and vulnerable young man”.

The Australian Karen Organisation’s national vice-president, Ester Kyaw, has known Pah Eh since he arrived in Australia in 2013. He wrote to the court saying he was remorseful for this mistake and has shown a steadfast and resolute demeanour in moving past it in a constructive way.

He will be eligible for parole in May 2025.

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 on 02 6247 2525, the Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT 02 6280 0900, and Lifeline on 13 11 14. In an emergency, call Triple Zero.

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