Canberra brothers jailed for 'thoroughly disgraceful' sex worker attacks
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Canberra brothers jailed for 'thoroughly disgraceful' sex worker attacks

Two brothers who threatened and raped sex workers in violent attacks in Canberra's inner north will each spend at least five years behind bars for their "thoroughly disgraceful conduct".

Ahmed Al Abbasi, 32, and his younger brother Mohammad Alabbasi, 22, pleaded guilty to offences arising from two terrifying ordeals against three sex workers at apartments in early 2016.

One female sex worker was dragged into a bedroom, stripped of her clothes, threatened with a knife and raped after Ahmed booked an appointment online and his brother also showed up in Reid on March 12.

Another woman, also a sex worker, was found cowering in a corner as she frantically sent text messages to a friend for help.

Mohammad then took her into the room where his brother was raping the sex worker, grabbed her phone and forced the woman to perform oral sex.

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The men fled when two people arrived at the door to help.

In the second attack, police said Ahmed raped the woman after she accepted an online booking for a half-hour service in a Braddon hotel on May 10. His brother had driven him to the apartment block.

The pair discussed payment before the sex worker realised he didn't have his wallet. He then brandished the box cutter and said repeatedly: "Just give me the money."

She screamed for help, pleaded with him to take other items in the apartment and tried to escape but he blocked the door, held her arm and waved the weapon in front of her face before saying: "Well let's just have sex then."

He flicked the blade in and out of the box cutter before he eventually put it in his pocket as he forced the woman to perform oral sex. She was on her knees and felt dizzy, nauseous and hyperventilating.

When she told Ahmed she was about to faint he told her to "just get on with it" before he left.

She watched him walk away out the window.

In a powerful victim impact statement, read in court by a prosecutor, the woman spoke of the significant and lingering impact of the trauma of that night. She had been "utterly convinced" she was going to die and had "never felt fear like that in her life".

The brothers were arrested in September 2016. They initially pleaded not guilty to a string of charges, but later switched their pleas before a planned trial.

Ahmed Al Abbasi, also named in court documents Khaled Al Abbasi, pleaded guilty to two counts of third degree rape, two charges of rape in company, attempted rape in company, rape and aggravated robbery.

Mohammad Alabbasi pleaded guilty to two counts of third degree rape, two charges of rape in company and aggravated robbery.

The brothers sat with their heads down as they were sentenced by Justice David Mossop in the ACT Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The court heard the men had been born in Iraq and later came to Australia by boat as refugees.

Mohammad had struggled with gambling and previously used ice and cannabis. His lawyers argued he'd been under the influence of his brother and driven by ice when he committed the offences.

Ahmed became addicted to ice several years ago and was "deeply regretful" of his offending.

Justice Mossop noted he was the "principal protagonist" in the offences but said he'd take into account the "significant and very unfortunate" impact his imprisonment would have on the man's wife and three young children.

The judge acknowledged the men played slightly different roles in the attacks, but said their attitudes to sexual violence against women should be denounced.

He said the planned and premeditated attacks targeted vulnerable women and their use of threats and violence to subdue the workers displayed "thoroughly disgraceful conduct" that warranted a jail term.

Ahmed was jailed for more than eight years and one month, with a non-parole period of five years and eight months. He will be eligible for release in June 2022.

Mohammad was sentenced to more than seven years and 11 months' jail with a non-parole period of more than five years and six months. He will be eligible for parole in December 2021.

Excerpts from the victim impact statement written by the woman raped in the Braddon attack

"For 15 minutes last May I was convinced I was going to die. I have never felt fear like that in my life. The sheer terror of being threatened with a weapon, and not knowing whether that person can even be reasoned with, not knowing how you are going to get yourself out of the situation, and having a grave feeling that it is not going to end well - it is something I would never wish on anyone. Let alone the sexual assault that followed.

"I was raped while doing my job, and I feel like there is so much more shame and stigma attached to that for me. I love my job and I am very proud of the business I have grown. I work in a legitimate, legal industry, and I pay my taxes, but as a sex worker I face so much stigma and so many stereotypes. Those prevailing myths about the sex industry, based on misconceptions about the nature of my work, make what happened to me so much more difficult.

"They go along the lines of suggesting that as a sex worker I am somehow culpable or share some blame in what happened to me; that we put ourselves in a situation which obviously leads to sex, so consent doesn't mean the same for us; it isn't really rape; there is the myth of the inevitability of violence, that my job is inherently dangerous, that sex workers often suffer abuse from clients, that sex workers place ourselves in harm's way - so what did I expect would happen to me?

"These are all wrong, and they aren't representative of my job. I make empowered choices and decisions regarding my job every day. I demand respect from my clients and I get it. The sexual acts within my commercial sexual transactions are often much more clearly and heavily negotiated than you would find in the non-sex work world.

"But as a sex worker, you absorb these social attitudes nonetheless. So, when something horrible did happen to me, when I was raped on the job, I felt ashamed to tell anyone. Every time I divulged to a friend what had happened to me, I felt like my news had to come with a disclaimer, that I had to explain myself, justify the security measures that I usually employ while working, explain that it wasn't my fault, and that what happened to me is not normal.

"Because what happened to me wasn't my fault. And what happened to me is not normal. I'm a sex worker but I'm also a human being. Some people might not agree with my job or my industry, but I deserve to be unconditionally safe at work. The stigma and stereotypes and negative social attitudes towards my work, they put me at risk. They say to people like my attacker that I am an easy target, and that I'm not deserving of the same level of respect as other women in the community. I am not an easy target and I am deserving of respect.

"My only hope after this ordeal is that fewer sex workers will ever have to go through what happened to me. The level of respect, kindness and support shown to me from the ACT police and DPP has given me much to hope for. I hope that people in the community will see the outcome of this case and be reminded that violence against sex workers is never OK, that we are unconditionally deserving of the same rights as any other person in any other industry or profession, that we are not easy targets, and that men like this who stand here today think twice before targeting a sex worker on the job and thinking they can get away with it."

Megan Gorrey is a reporter at the Sydney Morning Herald. She was previously a reporter at The Canberra Times.

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