Former NSW Police Officer Pleads Guilty to 44 Sexual Offences

, Former NSW Police Officer Pleads Guilty to 44 Sexual Offences

Former NSW Police Officer Pleads Guilty to 44 Sexual Offences

30-year-old former police officer Vaughan Mark Hildebrand has pleaded guilty to 44 offences against a dozen women, including intimidation, stalking, harassment, using a carriage service to solicit child pornography, and 17 counts of rape.

THE STORY

In a sentence hearing in February last year, the Court heard that the former police officer blackmailed four victims into having sexual intercourse as part of an elaborate deception involving social media. He admitted to 44 offences involving 15 victims over a decade. Hildebrand initially used social media to demand his victims supply him with explicit images. He threatened to share these photos with the victim’s friends, family, partners or colleagues if they did not meet his other demands. His other demands included having sex with him. Hildebrand became a police officer in 2011 and this did not stop him from continuing to commit these offences. Victims included five of his colleagues, who are serving police officers. Initially three women came forward to accuse him of serious sexual allegations in mid-2017; nine more alleged victims then came forward in late-2017 to accuse him of sexual assault and rape. Hildebrand made gross breaches of his duty as a police officer and used his position to harass and blackmail victims. He used restricted police data, fake social media accounts and burner phones to commit these offences. He even pretended to be a plastic surgeon once to obtain images of women’s breasts. After receiving these images, he used them against his victims as blackmail to demand more explicit images be sent to him. In January 2017 he was initially suspended from the police force after accessing restricted data on a police computer. He resigned in October of that year, despite having been in custody since his arrest in June of that year and has been refused bail twice. 68 charges were laid against him in total and the prosecution expects more victims may come forward. He is yet to be sentenced.

THE LAW

His offending came to light around the time that laws were being proposed in Parliament to criminalise the distribution of sensitive images without the consent of the person the subject of those images. Our blog post from earlier this year discusses the soon-to-be criminal laws enacted in Queensland criminalising the sharing of nudes without consent.

As it stands, NSW has now followed suit with the following provisions:

Section 91P of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) (the Act) – Record intimate image without consent:

(1) A person who intentionally records an intimate image of another person:

(a) without the consent of the person, and

(b) knowing the person did not consent to the recording or being reckless as to whether the person consented to the recording,

is guilty of an offence.

Maximum penalty: 100 penalty units or imprisonment for 3 years, or both.

(2) A prosecution of a person under the age of 16 years for an offence against this section is not to be commenced without the approval of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Section 91Q of the Act – Distribute intimate image without consent:

(1) A person who intentionally distributes an intimate image of another person:

(a) without the consent of the person, and

(b) knowing the person did not consent to the distribution or being reckless as to whether the person consented to the distribution,

is guilty of an offence.

Maximum penalty: 100 penalty units or imprisonment for 3 years, or both.

(2) A prosecution of a person under the age of 16 years for an offence against this section is not to be commenced without the approval of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Section 91R of the Act – Threaten to record or distribute intimate image:

(1) A person who threatens to record an intimate image of another person:

(a) without the consent of the other person, and

(b) intending to cause that other person to fear that the threat will be carried out,

is guilty of an offence.

Maximum penalty: 100 penalty units or imprisonment for 3 years, or both.

(2) A person who threatens to distribute an intimate image of another person:

(a) without the consent of the other person, and

(b) intending to cause that other person to fear that the threat will be carried out,

is guilty of an offence.

Maximum penalty: 100 penalty units or imprisonment for 3 years, or both.

(3) A threat may be made by any conduct and may be explicit or implicit and conditional or unconditional.

(4) A person may threaten to distribute an image whether or not the image exists.

(5) In proceedings for an offence against this section, the prosecution is not required to prove that the person alleged to have been threatened actually feared that the threat would be carried out.

(6) A prosecution of a person under the age of 16 years for an offence against this section is not to be commenced without the approval of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

One can see that these crimes attract very serious penalties, and that it is an offence to threaten to record or distribute intimate images, even if no image exists. This clearly was a step the government saw as necessary to intervene in the trend towards normalising ‘sexting’ and sending nude images amongst younger people, who have unprecedented access to devices and social media.

Mental Element

The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the act of recording or distributing is intentional, and that the person either knew that, or was reckless as to whether, the victim did not consent.

Consent

Section 91O of the Act provides that “a person consents to a recording or distribution of the image if the person ‘freely and voluntarily agrees’ to its recording or distribution. Agreeing to this on one occasion, or to a particular person, or in a particular way, does not mean that a person will be taken to have agreed to recording or distribution of another image, or on another occasion, or to another person, or in another way. In other words, a person must consent each time.

There are no exceptions for the offence of threatening to record or distribute intimate images.

Unlawful Filming

The offences of unlawful filming overlap with these, found in sections 91K and 91L of the Act. However, the unlawful filming offences require proof that the offender had the purpose of sexual arousal or sexual gratification, while the new offences above do not require proof of any particular motivation.

The Crown in the matter of Hildebrand did allege the purpose of his offending was indeed for sexual arousal or gratification.

To learn more about sex offences, read our dedicated page.

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