'Just curious' ... Josh Turner outside court. Photo: Bendigo Advertiser
The creator of a Facebook page set up to rate the sexual performance of the residents of Bendigo that featured sexually degrading comments about people as young as 13 has been sentenced to a suspended jail term.
Josh Turner, 25, from the Bendigo suburb of Kangaroo Flat, was also banned from the social networking site for two years after he pleaded guilty in the Bendigo Magistrates Court yesterday to charges of using a carriage service to offend and using an online information service to publish objectionable material.
The community have been absolutely outraged by this. She is a young girl, still in school... her name has been trashed.
Prosecutor Senior Constable Mark Herman said Turner set up the “Benders root rate” page on Facebook in June last year. 'Benders' is a local slang term for Bendigo.
“He has invited people to join the group and make comments rating their past sexual partners,” he said.
“He posted them on the wall of the “root rate” feed. The page was not blocked and anyone could view it.”
Senior Constable Herman said a woman complained to police on June 2 about being named and sexually degraded on the site.
He said the woman was one of hundreds of people – some as young as 13 and 14 – who had sexually explicit things written about them on the site.
Senior Constable Herman said Turner was arrested on September 18 and made full admissions to helping create and administer the site.
“He said he had not read any of the messages before posting them on to the wall because there were too many,” he said.
Turner told police he created the page “out of boredom” and because there was “nothing to do”.
Informant Senior Constable Cameron Dean said his investigation into the page had unearthed half a dozen similar sites and a “massive” number of victims.
But Senior Constable Dean said only one girl – herself still under 18 – was prepared to take her complaint to court.
Turner’s lawyer Alex McLennan tried to argue that might have been because none of the others were offended by the site, but Senior Constable Dean dismissed that excuse.
“I’m assuming they were a little embarrassed by it. They didn’t want to go to court, especially with everything that had been in the media,” he said.
Senior Constable Dean said it had been hard to investigate the crime because Facebook was based in the United States.
He said police tracked down the accused through a story published in the Bendigo Advertiser.
Turner confessed to a Bendigo Advertiser journalist that he set up the page and issued an apology through the paper.
Senior Constable Dean said it was this admission that led to Turner’s arrest in September.
Mr McLennan said Turner’s creation of “Benders root rate” was a decision made by a young man using poor judgment.
But he argued that Turner’s culpability was diminished because he didn’t write the offending comments.
“He created the page out of curiosity. He had heard of them in other towns but noticed there wasn’t one in Bendigo,’’ Mr McLennan said.
“Within 24 hours he had 1000 comments in his inbox and 3000 friend requests. He acted recklessly in posting these up without filtering them.”
But Senior Constable Herman said the offending was at the “extreme” end of the scale.
“This victim is not only a victim on the day it occurred but is a victim for life. She will have constant reminders,” he said.
“The community have been absolutely outraged by this. A clear message needs to be sent.
“A term of imprisonment is entirely warranted.”
Magistrate Ian Von Einem said a victim impact statement had brought home to him the serious effects of the Facebook page.
“She is a young girl, still in school... her name has been trashed and she is worried it will affect future job opportunities.”
Mr Von Einem said he wanted to set an example. “But given these circumstances... and due to what I see as some naivety on your behalf, I am prepared to suspended this sentence.”
On top of the six-month suspended sentence, Mr Von Einem placed Turner on a community corrections order for 15 months, including 150 hours of community work and a sex offender assessment.