Tabitha and Michelle spent years seeking justice, now they want the legal system to change how it treats sexual assault survivors

Michelle Snape and Tabitha West both reported the same family member to police for allegedly sexually abusing them as children.

One woman’s case never made it to trial, the other saw a conviction recorded against her abuser.

But neither really got the closure they sought from the justice system.

Here they tell their stories and join leading criminologists and advocates who are calling for change to the way our justice system treats sexual assault victims and complainants.

A child reports sexual abuse, but it goes nowhere

Michelle Snape describes herself as a survivor.

She was just eight years old when she says her older brother, Keith Dudley, sexually abused her.

While Ms Snape was just a small child in the mid-1970s when she says the abuse occurred, her brother was 18 at the time.

“I just put it down to my brother being a young adult at the time and I suppose experimenting, that was my way of dealing with it.”

Michelle Snape was eight years old when she says her brother Keith Dudley sexually abused her.(



It was something she pushed to the back of her mind as she was growing up, but by her late teens and early twenties, Ms Snape says it was causing her emotional pain and distress.

She spoke to a chaplain about the issue and thought she could move on with her life.

But decades later another revelation changed everything for Michelle.

Her niece Tabitha came forward with her own story.

As an adult Tabitha tells her family about her own abuse

Tabitha West was between the ages of eight and nine when her uncle Keith Dudley sexually abused her.

The abuse occurred over a year and on two separate occasions.

For Ms West, it took time to be able to talk about what had been done to her and she was in her early 20s when she told her family.

Tabitha West stands looking at the camera
Tabitha West wants to see more work done to prevent the abuse of children from occurring.(

ABC News: Gemma Hall


She then sent a clear message to her uncle through family members — she would not go to police if he sought professional help.

Ms West says if that had happened, “That would help me understand this person is seeking help, is remorseful and the chance of them doing it again would be reduced.”

Her biggest motivation was reducing the risk that Dudley could offend again.

Both women say they decided to go to the police only after Dudley refused to get any professional help.

But that decision was difficult.

“I didn’t have that, so that added to my stress.”

With her heart pounding and body shaking, Michelle makes a statement to police

It was in 2014 that Ms Snape went to make a statement to police at a station in the ACT where she was living at the time.

She says it is important for the public to understand how difficult that process can be for sexual assault survivors.

“It does feel like you are living it [the alleged abuse] again,” she says.

“You are not sure if the person sitting across from you can relate at all, and to be honest they probably can’t, they are just trying to do the best job they can.”

While Ms Snape told her story to an officer, she didn’t explain how stressed she was sitting there in that interview room.

Ms Snape says that moment was the start of a two year legal process for her as her brother was charged and the case slowly made its way to court.

“It is a lengthy time and it is a lengthy time to feel stressed,” she says.

“You peak and trough.”

She says when she had to speak to police her anxiety escalated, but then she would worry when it felt like nothing was happening.

Michelle Snape stands in front of a river, looking at the camera.
Michelle Snape wants the public to know how difficult it can be for victims to go to the police, and take a case through the justice system.(

ABC News: Tara Cassidy


Michelle takes the stand, but her coping strategies work against her

In 2016, Ms Snape’s case came before the County Court in Wodonga in regional Victoria where the abuse was alleged to have occurred, for a committal hearing.

It’s a type of hearing where prosecutors need to show they have enough evidence for a case to go to trial.

“I went into a podium box thing and the judge was on my left and the counsel and the defendant and the prosecutor were just in your eyesight,” Ms Snape says.

“So that is intimidating to see him [the defendant] there and scribbling notes.”

Ms Snape could have used a remote witness box to give evidence but chose to be in the courtroom.

She says she only met the prosecutor the day of that hearing — it’s an issue that still bothers her.

Ms Snape says it meant the prosecutor didn’t know her and didn’t know that she was someone who coped with extreme stress by putting on a brave face.

It’s a coping strategy that Ms Snape says she had been using since the alleged abuse as a child, but in court she says it worked against her.

Michelle Snape sits by a river, looking at the water.
Michelle Snape says she spent two years with high stress levels, while her case was before the courts.(

ABC News: Tara Cassidy


She says the lawyers questioning her were respectful, but she was asked to articulate intimate details of the alleged abuse.

“I just struggle with that, so articulating that was very confronting for me.”

She was so distressed she says, “The only way I thought I could get through it was almost like being a robot.”

“The problem with that is that it was like my mind had shut down.”

Ms Snape says her stress level left her with a “surreal” feeling, like she wasn’t completely there.

And she says it made it difficult for her to answer even simple questions.

“I didn’t always answer them [the questions] according to my statement, even though I knew the question that was being asked and I knew the answer, but I was saying, ‘I do not recall’.”

Ms Snape left the courtroom “devastated” and critical of her own performance on the stand.

While the Judge did commit her case to trial, ultimately the Office of Public Prosecutions decided to withdraw the case.

“I wasn’t a strong witness and they felt like the case wasn’t strong enough and they didn’t want to put me through doing that and not get a conviction at the end,” Ms Snape says.

It meant after two years pursuing her complaint through the justice system, her allegations were not taken to trial, her story wasn’t heard by a jury and there will never be a verdict.

Dudley found guilty of six sex offences against a child

In 2017, Ms West gave evidence at trial at the Wodonga County Court in regional Victoria before Judge Frank Gucciardo and a jury.

It was the first time she’d properly told her story.

“I hadn’t really verbalised the specific details of what had happened to anybody, not to my husband, not to anybody,” she says.

“So to sit there to a roomful of people and to describe in specific detail what happened, it was quite confronting to be honest.

“It was a bit more confronting than I was expecting.

“In some ways it felt like being undressed in a roomful of people.”

But Ms West says she was in a strong mental space to deal with the pressure and had the support of her close family members.

Tabitha West sits at a desk reading through a folder of court documents.
Tabitha West has kept a folder of all of the court documents relating to her case.(

ABC News: Gemma Hall


Unlike many sexual assault cases where prosecutors must rely heavily on the evidence of the complainant, Ms West’s case had two other important witnesses.

Her dad and aunt both testified that Dudley had made confessions to them.

A jury found Dudley guilty of five changes of an indecent act with or in the presence of a child under 16 and one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 10.

Judge Gucciardo said Dudley’s conduct comprised “repulsive acts of sexual abuse”.

The Judge said the defendant’s behaviour was deplorable and an “egregious breach of trust”.

“These acts exploited in a manipulative sense both the relationship which enabled you to have access to her as well as her bodily integrity.”

A school photo of Tabitha West smiling as a child.
Tabitha West smiles in a school photo. She was between the ages of seven and nine when Keith Dudley sexually abused her.(



Judge comments on Dudley’s ‘contumacious self-absorption’ during trial

For Ms West, her case was dominated by delays and the behaviour of her uncle leading up to and during the trial itself.

Court documents show that during Dudley’s police interview he remained mute the entire time.

Once the case came before the Country Court of Victoria, Ms West says he caused many delays.

“Delaying things and firing legal counsel etc and having to push court dates back as a result.”

She says she often learnt of delays at the last minute — and while she coped with the setbacks, she says it did take a toll on her family.

“I certainly feel that the process is not geared towards the experience of the victim in that case.”

Tabitha West stands inside a white rooming looking at the camera
Tabitha West went to the police as an adult to report childhood sexual abuse. It took years for her case to go from a police report to a criminal conviction against her uncle.(

ABC News: Gemma Hall


These delays were also referred to by Judge Gucciardo in his sentencing remarks after the trial.

Judge Gucciardo said the prosecutor had noted that Dudley “caused delays by sacking two teams of lawyers” and “taking time in deciding whether to accept assistance of counsel to cross-examine protected witnesses” when he represented himself at trial.

He also spoke about Dudley’s behaviour during the trial.

Judge Gucciardo said Dudley’s “lack of participation or co-operation in a trial process needs no further comment, your obstinacy even in your address to the jury is reflective of a contumacious self-absorption.”

At the time, Ms West says she just accepted these delays, but added it was left to the detective in her case to apologise to her again and again for what was occurring and the impact it had.

Dudley sentenced to prison, but released with little notice

For Ms West, the trial outcome was important.

“I felt happy only because the guilty conviction was needed for my wider family I think,” Ms West says.

Judge Gucciardo sentenced Dudley to four years in prison with a non-parole period of three years.

But three years after that sentencing Ms West received a letter in the mail alerting her to Dudley’s release.

She says it told her Dudley would be released from prison in a fortnight’s time.

She contacted the Victims Register seeking more information.

“Because he was let out early I assumed he participated in rehabilitation activities, that type of thing,” she says.

“I really wanted to know that he got support and help and access to rehabilitation.

Ms West says all she was told was that Dudley was going to be released and the release date.

“I really feel like that process needs to be improved,” she says.

“I feel like people need to be contacted by phone, not just get a letter in the mail.”

Call to improve justice system for victims

Both Ms West and Ms Snape are grateful for the work of the detective in their case, who they say was empathetic and understanding.

But they felt like he was often trying to cover for gaps in the justice system.

Ms Snape would like to see specialist courts created to deal with sexual offences, “Because they would have the right people in the job, they would have the right people who had that emotional intelligence that would help the victim through the process.”

It is an idea that is being investing by the Law Reform Commission in Victoria, which is reviewing how the justice system deals with sexual offences in that state.

Michelle Snape stands in front of a river.
Michelle Snape wants to see prosecutors spend more time with complainants before court hearings.(

ABC News: Tara Cassidy


Ms Snape would like to ideally see the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) assign a single prosecutor to a case and for prosecutors to be better resourced to spend more time with complainants.

In a statement, the OPP said: “Before allocating prosecutors to a case the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) first assess the type of case and its complexity and will then brief counsel who have commensurate experience.”

Ms West believes there are both small and large changes that could be made to improve the justice system for sexual assault survivors.

She noticed when the courts communicated with her it would be through formal letters requesting her attendance and there would often be a brochure sent with the phone numbers for helplines included.

To her, the brochures felt like a “box ticking” exercise rather than real support.

She says she understands that the court process does need to be fair and that does involve the difficulty of victims giving evidence about traumatic events.

But she wants to see complainants better supported through that justice process so they can tell their story and have a better experience than her aunt did.

Ms West would have liked access to a liaison officer at the court who could have been a point-of-contact and a person who could answer questions about the court processes and what to expect.

But one of the bigger issues that she noticed was the lack of options she had as a victim.

She says it felt like her only options were to report her abuse to the police and go through a criminal trial or to do nothing about the abuse.

“If they had said you have the option of sending him to jail or send them somewhere to get rehabilitation and support, I would have chosen rehabilitation and support,” she says.

It frustrates Ms West, that after all this time, she still doesn’t know if the man who sexually abused her did access any rehabilitation services.

She says it left her without the closure she always sought.

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Victorian opposition pushes for informal sexual assault reporting option

The Victorian opposition is pushing for an informal reporting option for sexual assaults, to bring the state in line with the rest of the nation.

The online reporting option would act as a therapeutic tool for victims and increase police intelligence on sexual assaults, under a plan unveiled by the state Coalition.

But it would not require the victim to go through the processes usually involved in making a formal report. 

Data shows the vast majority of sexual assaults are not reported to police, and of those that are only a tiny percentage result in a conviction.

Kerry Burns, the CEO of the Centre Against Violence, said the stigma attached to sexual assault and the distressing nature of making an official complaint meant there were often more disincentives to reporting than there were incentives.

Data shows most sexual assaults are not reported to police and conviction rates are even lower.

“We know sexual assaults are underreported in Victoria,” Shadow Police Minister David Southwick told the ABC.

“And we need to do whatever we can to ensure more people are able to tell a story and come forward and be able to have their cases heard.”

Survivors in Victoria were previously able to report through the Sexual Assault Report Anonymously website (SARA), which was run by the South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault.

But it was closed down last year.

“It needs to be funded, it needs to be resourced, both technically and functionally by people that can respond to it,” Ms Burns said.

Mr Southwick said the gap should be filled by a police-linked service based on the New South Wales Sexual Assault Reporting Option (SARO).

SARO is used in NSW as a way for victims to report their experiences without necessarily starting a criminal investigation.

“The primary purposes of a SARO is to make a record of what occurred, in addition to allowing the NSW Police Force to gather information on sexual offences and offending,” the program’s website tells potential users.

“SARO can also be used as a therapeutic tool during counselling programs.”

The reports can be made anonymously.

The system has been adapted in the wake of a petition started by Sydney woman Chanel Contos, which gathered thousands of signatures calling for better consent education in schools.

Hundreds of former students shared their experiences of sexual assault as part of the petition, but Ms Contos said she knew referring survivors to police was not an option for many.

Mr Southwick said the petition had “opened up our eyes to say this is desperately needed”.

“In a normal circumstance, those victims of sexual assault will have to find a police station, quite often in quite a confronting way [and] tell their stories many times,” he said.

Mr Southwick launched the policy with Shadow Minister for Women Emma Kealy and Brighton MP James Newbury at Dendy Park, where a 15-year-old girl was raped in recent weeks.

Mr Newbury, in whose electorate the park sits, said authorities knew more girls had been assaulted, but the 15-year-old was the only one to make a formal complaint to police.

They were joined at the press conference by local resident Nadine, who said she was assaulted on a quiet street in Caulfield in the 1970s.

She said reporting to the police was an ordeal that involved her having to “prove she was an upstanding citizen” and that she was subject to victim-blaming from the officers involved.

“Things need to be taken at face value and it needs to be made simple and easy for the traumatised person.” 

Ms Kealy said Victoria was lagging behind the rest of the country as the only state without an informal reporting option.

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Saxon Mullins fronts Parliament House to call for action on sexual assault as thousands march in Canberra

Saxon Mullins is familiar with the justice system when it comes to prosecuting sexual assault. On Monday, she joined thousands of women in Canberra to call for increased action against sexual violence.

Ms Mullins, 25, is among the thousands of people who have attended dozens of marches across the country.

In 2017, after two trials and two appeals, Luke Lazarus was acquitted of raping then 18-year-old Ms Mullins behind his father’s Kings Cross nightclub.

A judge found Lazarus had the mistaken, but genuine, belief the young woman had consented.

With no personal closure after a lengthy court process, Ms Mullins has travelled to the steps of Parliament to make her voice heard.

“Building on the momentum that has been coming the last few years, we have reached a point of total exasperation,” she said.

“We are tired of being disregarded and put to the side because there’s something more important to do.

“This is important … and we won’t stop until the government actually cares and actually does something about this.”

Mounting calls for reform

Ms Mullins said the government’s response to recent revelations about the treatment of women in politics reflected its priorities.

“To have the story of a survivor land on your desk and you don’t even read the details of it, I think it’s absolutely indicative of how much they care about survivors,” she said.

“When it suits them, they’ll shine a light on it, but when it does not suit them, it’s pushed under the rug.”

Saxon Mullins is fighting for improved laws around consent as well as broader cultural changes.(

ABC News: Brigid Andersen


Ms Mullins was a key figure in the New South Wales government’s 2018 decision to commission a review of the state’s sexual consent laws.

The Law Reform Commission recommended NSW follow Tasmania in legislating an affirmative model of consent, whereby a person doesn’t consent to sex if they haven’t said or done anything to communicate it.

Ms Mullins had hoped to also see that recommendation include that a person must take reasonable steps to ascertain consent. The government has not yet responded to the review.

Ms Mullins believes improved laws around consent as well as broader cultural change are imperative.

“Please listen to us and engage with us and do the bare minimum of what we ask,” she said.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Parliament House in Canberra holding signs.
Protesters have marched to Parliament House in Canberra to protest against sexism and gendered violence.(

ABC News: Raveen Hunjan


Ms Mullins launched a sexual assault research and advocacy centre last year and hopes her work in the area will provide the resolution her court process lacked.

“This feels like me being able to finish this story how I think it should be finished — with real change,” she told 7.30.

“I’m really proud of all the people who are marching today, even though we’re all from different places and different backgrounds, we’re all marching for one topic.

“And that topic is justice.”

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More survivors of sexual assault are coming forward for help after Grace Tame put the issue in the spotlight

Twenty years later, fellow survivor Grace Tame’s advocacy inspired her to come forward and tell her story.

“To be able to go, ‘This is me, and this is why I am who I am’ — that has made such a difference,” Ms Munting said.

Ms Tame was groomed and raped by her 58-year-old maths teacher from the age of 15.

She was named 2021 Australian of the Year for using her voice to help push for legal reform to allow Tasmanian survivors to tell their stories using their own names, and for her advocacy for survivors.

The award has put the issue of sexual abuse firmly in the national spotlight.

“On one hand it’s been really tricky to negotiate having so much triggering media,” Ms Munting said.

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Family of Jason Langhans pleads for justice after teenager’s death following party assault

A grieving mother has made an emotional plea for help to find justice for her teenage son, who died several weeks after being assaulted at a 16th birthday party in Melbourne’s south-east.

Jason Langhans was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries in the early hours of March 21, after he was attacked at a house party in Tooradin with what police believe was a screwdriver.

After spending nearly three weeks fighting for life in intensive care, the Cranbourne North boy died on Saturday afternoon.

“Jason courageously battled for three weeks … but his injuries were unsurvivable,” Homicide Squad Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper said.

“The family had to make the horrendous decision to remove life support.”

Jason’s mother Carolyn Langhans said the last few weeks had been a “nightmare”.

“It’s been horrible … just watching our son lie there, just wishing he’d open his eyes and talk to us,” she said.

Homicide Squad detectives are calling on the public to help identify three unknown males, who arrived at the party as it was winding up.

“Nobody knew these three. They’re certainly not from the local area and they were certainly not invited,” Inspector Stamper said.

Inspector Stamper said the party had been well supervised and without incident until the arrival of the three males, who “seemed to be looking for trouble”.

It is believed a confrontation took place after the trio was asked to leave, with Jason stepping in to act as the “peacemaker”, trying to de-escalate the situation by saying “everyone, let’s go home”.

Police say one of the males – without provocation — then struck Jason twice on the head with a sharp implement. He was then hit again by a second unknown male.

The trio then took off “into the darkness” into the grounds of nearby rural properties and were chased by a large group of party guests.

Police believe a second confrontation took place nearby and want to speak with anyone with information about the later altercation.

The three men of interest are perceived to be middle eastern in appearance, and police believe they may have travelled from Melbourne’s western suburbs.

All three men are described as approximately 170 centimetres tall.

One man has dark-coloured short hair and was wearing dark clothing, while the second has dark wavy hair which was brushed across his face. He was also wearing dark clothing.

The third man has a dark-coloured short crew cut and was wearing dark clothing. Police believe he may have facial injuries to the left side of his face.

Police are still searching for the weapon and have asked owners of properties in the area to be on the lookout.

Carolyn Langhans described her son as an outdoorsy “loving, caring and gentle person” who was passionate about fishing, camping and four-wheel driving.

Jason was about to begin an apprenticeship and was planning to get his driver’s licence when he turned 18 in July.

Immediately after Jason was assaulted, he was given first aid and a bandaid for his head wound — the severity of which was not yet understood — before a parent took him home.

During the drive to Cranbourne North, Jason’s condition deteriorated and by the time he arrived home, he was falling in and out of consciousness and was subsequently rushed to hospital.

Carolyn said she hoped justice would be served after his heartbreaking death.

“Just please let the detectives know so we can get justice for Jason and this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

Jason’s older sisters Emma and Stacey said he was a sweet boy who was “incredibly loved” and was always “protecting other people”.

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Teen dies after assault at party in Tooradin, southeast of Melbourne

A teenage boy has died almost a month after being assaulted at a party southeast of Melbourne.

Jason Langhans, 17, died in hospital on Saturday three weeks after the assault at the party on Station Road in Tooradin on March 21 around 2.30am.

Police believe a group of men became involved in an incident with the teen from Cranbourne North and the situation escalated into a physical fight.

Homicide Squad detectives are investigating.

The investigation is continuing and anyone with information about the incident on Station Road is asked to contact Crime Stoppers.

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Homicide detectives investigating after party assault causes death of ‘fun-loving’ 17-year-old boy

Police are investigating the death of a 17-year-old Cranbourne North boy after he was assaulted at a party last month.

Jason Langhans, who would have turned 18 in July, has been remembered as a “fun-loving” boy with “big dreams” by his family and friends.

He was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries in the early hours of March 21, after he was assaulted at a party in Tooradin, south-east of Melbourne.

After spending nearly three weeks fighting for his life in ICU, he died on Saturday afternoon.

His mother, Carolyn Langhans, said she hoped justice would be served after his heartbreaking death.

“Jason you were our whole life, and not a day will go by without us thinking about you and wishing you were here, we love you so much and our lives feel so empty,” she said in a tribute on Facebook.

“You put up a good fight, but unfortunately it was your time to go and now you’re no longer in any pain.

“You are now at peace with Poppy right by your side looking after you and catching that big fish.”

In online tributes, friends and family remembered a much-loved boy with a passion for fishing and a bright future ahead of him.

“You will sorely be missed but never forgotten,” older sister Emma Langhans said on Facebook.

Homicide Squad detectives are investigating the circumstances surrounding the assault.

“Detectives are investigating reports a group of men became involved in an incident with the teen which escalated to a physical altercation,” Victoria Police said in a statement.

“The Cranbourne North boy was taken to hospital at the time with life threatening injuries.

“The investigation remains ongoing.”

Anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers.

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Man to face Cairns court on multiple domestic violence and assault charges

A 27-year-old man is facing eight domestic violence charges after an incident south of Cairns in Far North Queensland early yesterday morning.

Police said they were called to a property in Wrights Creek around 4:00am on Tuesday after a man allegedly punched and tried to strangle a 20-year-old woman, who was known to him.

Acting Detective Inspector Kevin Goan said the woman ran through a nearby cane field after the man allegedly armed himself with a knife and drove around the property looking for her while she hid in the cane.

Police allege the man “actively sought out” the woman while armed with a knife.

Acting Detective Inspector Goan said she remained in the cane field for around an hour, until police arrived and the man was arrested.

He said the two had previously been in a relationship and had been at the address in Wrights Creek for a social occasion when the incident is alleged to have occurred.

He said police were particularly concerned by the alleged strangulation offences.

“She’s clearly very shaken by the ordeal, she was taken through to the Cairns Base Hospital.”

The man has been charged with four counts of contravention of a domestic violence order and one count each of common assault, strangulation, assault occasioning bodily harm and unlawful stalking.

He was denied bail, and he did not appear in court when his case was heard this morning.

His lawyers made no application for bail, meaning he will remain in custody until the matter is heard again next month.

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We Received Complaints about Sexual Assault, Lack of COVID Separation in San Antonio Migrant Facility

On Wednesday’s broadcast of the Fox News Channel’s “Ingraham Angle,” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) said that the state has sent the Texas Rangers into a migrant facility in San Antonio because there have been complaints to state agencies about a lack of supervision, sexual assault between teenagers in the facility, people not being fed properly, and children with coronavirus not being separated.

Patrick said, “[T]onight, Brian, we just sent the Texas Rangers in…to the facility in San Antonio. Because we got complaints to state agencies that there’s no supervision. Because they don’t have enough people there. They can’t get volunteers. There’s sexual assault going on between these teenagers in this — this is the call that we got today, several calls, they’re not being fed properly, they have kids with COVID that aren’t being separated. The president and the vice president of the United States and the Democratic Party are so concerned about placating the left for open borders, children are allegedly being sexually assaulted on American soil because of their total neglect of protecting our border, protecting this country, and protecting these kids, whether they’re dropped over the fence, whether they’re sexually assaulted, whether they’re sent into the country into sex trafficking. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have this on their hands, Brian.”

Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett

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Victoria Police release CCTV footage in appeal for information after sexual assault

Victoria Police are appealing for information regarding a sexual assault in Pakenham on March 2. They have released CCTV footage of a man they believe may be able to assist with their enquiries.

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