Mother of murdered teen Carly Ryan still fighting online predators

It's hard to know how many lives Carly Ryan has saved, how many childhoods she has kept intact.

At 14, she fell in love with a lie.

Gary Francis Newman, a 50-year-old predator, spent more than a year wooing the South Australian teen, posing as "Brandon Kane", an 18-year-old musician who loved all the things Carly loved and just wanted to make her happy.

Chatting online, and over the phone, "Brandon" sent his "father", to meet Carly and her family.

Newman attempted to use what he had learnt about Carly through his alter-ego to seduce her. When she rejected him, he returned home to plan his revenge. He used "Brandon" one more time to lure her to a secluded beach where he murdered her. She was 15 years old.

When police arrived to arrest him 11 days later, Newman was in front of his computer, chatting to a 14-year-old West Australian girl. He was sentenced to life in prison.

It's been 10 years since Carly's death changed how Australian parents thought of online chat; a decade since her mother, Sonya, began her mission to ensure her daughter's legacy was to save other families, other children, the grief, pain and helplessness the Ryans endured in February 2007.

This week, those close to Carly will commemorate the sensitive and loving teen in Canberra.

"For me as her mother it is bitter-sweet moment," Sonya said.

"Of course, I would much rather she was here, but ... I am just desperately trying to make some kind of a difference in her name."

The Carly Ryan Foundation, founded by Sonya, educates children and parents on online safety and, through the telling of Carly's story, connects with teens in a way few can.

But Sonya is also working towards making sure police can act before a child comes face to face with a predator, working with the Nick Xenophon Team, to create "Carly's Law", a piece of legislation that would make it a crime for adults to lie about their age online with the intent of meeting with children. Skye Kakoschke-Moore introduced a bill late last year, and together with Senator Xenophon is working with the major parties on amendments, to find a law which will work as Sonya intends it.

"All the major parties have agreed it is necessary – it is just a case of tweaking the legislation with the federal police and making sure it is prosecutable – to capture people who are looking to take advantage of youth online and misrepresenting their age and identity," she said.

"We don't want to trap kids who are just pretending to be 14 or something like that – we want to capture people who are seeking out children online to meet them and harm them."

In the meantime, Sonya has also dedicated herself to reforming the judicial system, to ensure crimes against children are treated with the weight they deserve.

"From my perspective, if an abalone fisherman gets six years for taking too many abalone, but a person who offends against a child gets six months in prison – what does that say about our society?" she said.

"To me, it is utterly appalling and we really need to look at our judicial system and look at where things are going wrong and where we are failing our children."

For more information on the Carly Ryan Foundation, go to carlyryanfoundation.com

The story Mother of murdered teen Carly Ryan still fighting online predators first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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