Ex-soldier Michael Park jailed for more than three years for sexually assaulting underage teens he met online

Michael Park
Michael Park

An autistic ex-soldier who sexually abused two 13-year-old Illawarra girls he met through Facebook – and threatened to post intimate pictures of one of them online – will spend at least three years and three months behind bars.

Judge Andrew Haesler said Michael John Park, 24, had exploited the youth and naivety of his two victims with his “self-absorbed” behaviour.

Wollongong District Court heard the two encounters occurred three years apart – the first in 2012 when Park was 19 and the second in 2016 when he was 22.

In the first case, Park molested the girl at his home after she agreed to meet him in person.

The court heard he manipulated his second victim by communicating with her over Facebook using a false name, eliciting an intimate photo of her then telling her she had to meet with a man named “Michael Park” or the picture would be posted online.

Once they met up, Park fondled the teen’s genitals as they sat in the back seat of his car.

Judge Andrew Haesler noted the young age of both the victims, however also accepted evidence contained in a psychological report that said Park’s diagnosis of autism meant he was emotionally immature.

The report said while Park was high functioning in some aspects of his life he struggled in other areas, including inter-personal relationships and suggested at the time of both offences he was “operating at the emotional level of a 15-year-old”.

Judge Haesler accepted that Park’s moral culpability was reduced as a result of his diminished mental capacity, but said the harm and suffering of both victims needed to be recognised when it came to imposing a sentencing.

However, he also found Park had good prospects of rehabilitation, was remorseful for the harm he’d caused the victims and had strong support from his family, who had attended all his court appearances.

Park’s lawyer confirmed during an earlier court appearance that her client had lost his job in the Australian Defence Forces as a result of the charges.

Judge Haesler imposed an overall sentence of five years and five months, which included a discount for Park’s early plea of guilty.

With time already served, Park will be eligible to be considered for parole in January 2020.