Gang rape horror story finally revealed
A Tasmanian schoolgirl who was held at knifepoint, bashed and gang raped, before being taken to dig her own grave, has broken her 25-year silence about the ordeal.
The attack occurred on Christmas Eve, 1993, in the seaside town of Burnie, Tasmania. The 16-year-old girl had climbed into a ute with five men who were travelling to the same party as she was.
Instead, the girl was driven to an abandoned paddock where she was terrorised, told she was going to be killed, and brutally gang raped in the early hours of Christmas morning. The ringleader, Geoffrey Michael Haywood, then told her she was going to be taken elsewhere to dig her own grave and that no one would ever find her.
The victim's harrowing story of narrow escape and survival has never before been heard outside of a courtroom. Nor has she ever spoken publicly about the personal impact of enduring three separate trials, including spending the day of her 18th birthday being cross examined over the gruesome details of the rapes.
Now, after news Haywood has died at age 51, the rape survivor says previous fears she held over speaking out have finally abated and that she is ready to tell her story in full.
But in a devastating development, the victim has been advised she cannot speak out using her real name, due to an archaic Tasmanian law - section 194K of the Evidence Act - which prohibits all media from naming sexual assault victims regardless of their consent.
"I've waited 25 years to tell my story. Every Christmas I relive what happened to me" says the woman, now aged 41.
"As a survivor I should have the right to tell my story with my name. Without my name and face, it's not my story, it's just my words. You need a name and a face. Every survivor deserves that. It's an injustice not to allow us our names."
The woman also hopes to publish a nonfiction memoir about her experience, but under the existing law, any publisher that agrees to print her manuscript could be prosecuted if the book includes her real identity.
This is not this an idle threat. In 2012, a Tasmanian newspaper which named a rape survivor - with the survivor's full cooperation and consent - was prosecuted and ordered to pay a $20,000 fine. The decision set a concerning precedent for all news outlets in Tasmania.
The #LetHerSpeak campaign for law reform was launched last year after a sexual assault survivor dubbed "Jane Doe" discovered she could not speak about her experience of abuse under her real name, despite the fact her perpetrator, Nicolaas Bester, had been sent to jail. More than 5000 people signed the #LetHerSpeak petition for legal reform, created by End Rape On Campus Australia in partnership with Marque Lawyers.
Now Jane Doe and the gang rape survivor from Burnie have banded together to push for the reform and a GoFundMe has been created to help the two sexual assault survivors take their individual fights to be named to the Supreme Court.
"It's a hideous law and it needs to be changed" says the Burnie survivor who has requested to go by the pseudonym Leia*.
"My story has already been told so many times by other people: police, prosecutors, journalists, not to mention, town gossips. I'm the only one who is not allowed to tell it."
In theory, the law exists to protect a survivor's identity from ever being discovered. But in a further cruel twist, when the matter went to trial in the 1990s, sexual assault courts were open to the public meaning Leia's identity quickly became gossip fodder in the town of 13,000.
"Gawkers and random members of the public could come in and watch me tell what happened to me. My identity was never protected back then," she said.
"Burnie is a small town and news gets around quick. Pretty much everyone knew I was that girl it happened to.
"Now, as an adult I'm told that survivors lack the mental capacity to understand the risks of speaking out publicly. But the irony is I've already had to speak out publicly, just never on my own terms."
While the town has grown in size, the perils of experiencing a sexual assault in a small community remain unchanged.
Up until just a few years ago, Leia would see the same ute she was taken in around town.
"It was a constant reminder for me," she said.
'HE HAD PURE EVIL IN HIS EYES': CHRISTMAS EVE 1993
On the night in question, Leia had climbed into the vehicle quite willingly. Inside were five men, two of whom she knew: the driver and a passenger, Glen Last, who was a friend. (Neither the driver nor Glen Last have ever been charged with any offence in relation to Leia and both later agreed to assist the prosecution.)
The men in the car were travelling to the same house party Leia was making her way to when they stopped on Mount St to offer her a lift.
"The party was only up the same road and we were all going to the same place so I thought it was fine," she said.
But also in the car that night were three other men, who Leia hadn't met before: Geoffrey Michael Haywood, 29, Leon Roy Roughley, 27, and Timothy John Marshall, 22. (Charges against Marshall were eventually dropped.)
"I was sitting in the back of the ute on Glen's knee as we made our way to the party. But when we get to house and the ute doesn't stop. My stomach just flipped," she said.
Leia pleaded with the men to stop driving but her demands were ignored. When the vehicle reached Three Mile Line Rd, it pulled over by a white barn.
According to court documents, Haywood then said "we should all jump her".
"Glen opened the car door and told me to get out of the car and run - just run!" Leia said.
But according to court documents, Haywood, who was sitting in the backseat, stopped the schoolgirl by grabbing her by the hair and preventing her from getting out.
Marshall and Haywood then pulled Glen Last from the vehicle beating him, as Leia pleaded with the driver not to let the men rape her.
"I pulled out everything I could. I said: 'Have you got a daughter mate? Think of me as her.' I was begging and pleading," she said. "I told the driver, 'Just drive, they will kill me! If they did that to Glen, what do you think they will do to me?'
"I looked at Glen, he was a mess. I was hysterical, but the driver wouldn't move."
The court would later hear that Haywood then tried to force Leia out of the vehicle by grabbing her knees and hitting her in the stomach. She kicked him in the face, screaming and crying before pleading and promising that if they released her, she would "not dob".
But instead Haywood, Marshall and Roughley re-entered the vehicle, and Haywood instructed the driver to continue on, as a blade was put to Leia's throat.
Glen Last's barely conscious body would be found hours later on the side of Three Mile Line Rd. He later recuperated in hospital.
"After they did that to Glen, the mood inside the ute changed," Leia said. "It became real quiet for a bit."
As the ute drifted further and further from civilisation, Leia was overcome with an impending feeling of doom and a belief that she would not survive the night.
"We passed a series of paddocks and an old people's home. Haywood then told the driver to pull over. We stopped and the driver got out and fled on foot, leaving me behind with Haywood, Roughley and Marshall," she said.
Court documents show Haywood then pulled the crying girl out of the vehicle, before punching and kicking her right temple as she sat on the side of the road weeping.
"I remember looking around. I was never a good runner and the closest houses were too far away to reach. But it didn't matter. The next thing I knew, I was suddenly up and running into the paddock. But then I realised I had nowhere to go. There was a body of water at the end of the paddock and I remember thinking 'you can't go down that path or they will catch you and drown you'," she said.
"So I just stopped still in the middle of the paddock. As they caught up to me, I knew I had to say the words 'no' and that I 'didn't want it'. I knew that it would be important for police later that I had said that. And I knew I had to do whatever it took to survive. So in that moment I stopped running and just tried to survive."
A court would later hear that the men then took turns raping and assaulting Leia.
"During it, I felt like I was outside my body looking down. All I could think was 'I just want to get home to my mum and dad. I just want to see my mum and dad again'," she said.
"When it was finally over, Haywood sat across my chest, and put a knife to my throat and said 'I should kill you, you sl*t and dump you in the woods'. He had pure evil in his eyes. I've never seen anyone look that way before or since."
Later in a video-taped police interview, Roughley would admit he heard Haywood say words to that effect. DNA tests also confirmed Haywood's semen was found.
"They got me up and walked me back out of the paddock to the ute, hitting me over the head. I remember knowing - not thinking, but knowing - I didn't have long to go."
Then Haywood said the words Leia will never forget.
"He said, 'Now you're going to dig your own f**king grave you b*tch. Because you will never tell anyone about this.'
"I turned to the youngest one, Marshall and said, 'You can't let them hurt me. You can't let them kill me. You have to keep me safe.'
"I'm not religious but in that moment, as they got me into the ute, I remember praying, 'God help me, please, please, help me.'"
A MIRACULOUS ESCAPE
As Haywood drove manically along West Mooreville Rd, Leia sat in the seat behind him, desperately trying to calculate an escape.
"I was thinking about jumping from the vehicle and was trying to work out whether I would survive at the speed we were going at," she said.
It had been raining that Christmas Eve and the roads in Burnie were slippery. As the ute hurtled along West Mooreville Rd, it suddenly hit something, flipping and crashing.
Leia, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was knocked unconscious in the crash. "When I eventually came to, I could smell petrol. I thought I have to get out of here. They might set it on fire with me in here," she said.
She crawled out through the window of the upturned vehicle, finding that by then, Haywood and Roughley had fled the scene and only Marshall remained.
But her ordeal was still not over. A court would later hear Marshall took her at knife point - first on foot and then by vehicle - to his brother's apartment.
To her horror, Haywood and Roughley soon arrived at the apartment too. But by then the men appeared to have grown weary and disinterested in her.
"There were other people present too, including another girl. They all began to get drunk and stoned while I just hung back in the corner trying not to be noticed. It went on for several hours and there was only one entrance and exit. But one by one I watched as they all eventually drifted away or passed out," Leia said.
As dawn broke on Christmas morning 1993, Leia mustered up one final burst of courage. Creeping past the drunk and dozing men, she inched towards the front door, and towards her eventual freedom.
Other children across Burnie would spend that day opening presents and feasting on turkey. Leia would spend her Christmas Day at Burnie police station recounting her extraordinary account of torment and survival.
Just three weeks before the gang rape, Leia's school principal had written her a glowing personal recommendation. She still has the letter to this day. Dated December 8, 1993, it says that Leia "has proved herself to be a polite and friendly young lady whose cheerful personality and good humour have enabled her to easily interact with staff and students alike … She has shown concern for her fellow students and follows this with support and assistance in helping them to overcome their personal difficulties. She has been supportive of the staff and I have always found her to be honest and straightforward."
But when the matter went to court in April 1994, Leia would find herself accused of being a lying, drug taker who fabricated the rapes to avoid getting in trouble with parents.
Headlines from newspaper articles in May that year include: "Rape trial girl drug smoking claim denied" and "Girl denies making up rape story".
Outside court, Leia says the treatment was just as bad. "People would say, 'It's your fault for getting in the car with them.' They would call me the most disgusting names," she said.
But inside court, Leia persisted.
"I was on Valium and Prozac just to keep calm. I was both traumatised and completely numb at the same time. There were three separate barristers asking me questions trying to trip me up. So we had to have everything perfected from the beginning," she said.
After a four-week trial, Haywood, Marshall and Roughley were all found guilty of one count of rape.
At the sentencing in June, Justice Christopher Wright blasted the men saying "those barbaric individuals in the community who see themselves as having some right to subjugate and brutalise weaker members of society must be brought face to face with the severe consequences which await them on conviction".
"The ocker attitude that women are fair game if they accept a lift in a motor car or move about unprotected at night has no place in modern society and must be firmly denounced and rejected," the judge said.
The men were sentenced to a combined 17 years' jail.
But Leia's ordeal was not over. In February the next year, all three men appealed, and their convictions were overturned on a series of technical arguments regarding how evidence was admitted at court.
A second trial resulted in a hung jury, at which point Leia almost gave up hope. But aided by Daryl Coates from the Department of Public Prosecutions, she agreed to testify one last time, in a final bid at justice.
"Initially I didn't think I could do it. By then I had worn out my whole family and friends and no one was coming to court with me anymore," she said.
"But I knew I had to keep going to see it through to the end. I had this drive to prove my truth and when I gave evidence the third time, I remember saying to myself: 'I will not cry and I will not break down because they win every time I do and I will not let them win.'
Finally in July 1995 - 19 months after the original attack - Haywood was sentenced to six years' jail for one count of rape, one count of aggravated assault, and one count of assault. Roughley was also found guilty of one count of rape and sentenced to three years and six months' jail.
The charges against Timothy Marshall were eventually dropped.
A PATHWAY TO RECOVERY
For Leia, finally she had some level of closure and the long road to recovery could begin.
"Small towns can crucify you (but there are) healing moments too. After the final trial I was working at a local restaurant as a waitress. One night I had served a woman a meal. I took her the bill and she was looking at me oddly and then she said, 'Can I hug you? I was on the jury in your court case and I just want to hug you.'," Leia said.
"She started crying and I so I hugged her and said, 'I'm going to be OK.' I told her that because that's what I wanted her to walk away with, not what she had seen and heard in court.
"I didn't want her to remember the trauma of court, and I didn't want her to remember me that way.
"I hate the word victim, because I'm not a victim. I'm a survivor and a strong one at that. And at the end of the day survivors are awesome people."
Leia is now doing a bridging course and hopes to study social work and become a court support person for other sexual assault victims. She is also a mother and she recently told her teenage children.
"I wanted them to hear it from (their) mum, rather than hearing it through town gossip. But I also told them because it's important to me that they respect women and they understand that no means no. They were so supportive and are now the first to speak up when they hear something sexist. It's had such a positive impact in my family and I want to be able to extend that impact," Leia said.
"I sometimes look back at what I went through when I was 16 and wish I could have had someone to reach out to, who knew and understood what I was going through back then. If I had been able to see survivors speaking publicly without shame or stigma back then, it probably would have saved me from a lot of self destruction and confusion that I've experienced.
"After all this time, I'm finally telling my story now, because our stories matter. We deserve to be heard."
Nina Funnell is a Walkley award winning journalist and the creator of the #LetHerSpeak campaign in partnership with End Rape On Campus Australia and Marque Lawyers. If you or someone you know has been impacted by sexual violence support is available by calling 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732. You can donate to the #LetHerSpeak Go Fund Me here