Featured image: Steve Onnis Source: Facebook
A man who lured six young women into having sex with him after posing as the female owner of a boutique escort agency was today jailed for at least five years.
County Court judge Mark Gamble said the case reinforced fears that the internet was “a dangerous place for the unwary”.
The judge said the six victims aged between 16 and 20 had shown a remarkable degree of naivety by placing their trust in Steve Onnis, who had gone to great lengths to ensnare the women.
Onnis pleaded guilty to six counts of procuring sexual penetration by fraud, and another charge of attempting to procure sexual penetration by fraud.
Onnis used mobile phone numbers posted by the women online to contact them under his alias, Melanie Hawke, using websites such as flatmatefinders.com.au, gumtree.com.au and easyroommate.com.au.
If the women were interested in working for the fictional escort agency, Onnis would contact them using chat rooms or Skype.
Onnis would then use a video he had secretly recorded of another woman during an earlier online relationship as proof that he was Melanie. The women were then encouraged to expose themselves using web cameras — exchanges that Onnis then recorded.
Five of the women were told by Onnis, pretending to be Melanie, that they had to meet a “scout” of the escort business for a free trial to determine their suitability for work.
Another was told to meet a client and a $500 payment would be arranged by Melanie.
Onnis, calling himself “Scott”, had sex with the women either at his Malvern East home or, on one occasion, at a hotel in Fitzroy North. He recorded and took still photos of each encounter, and asked the women to sign a two-page consent form during the occasions when the sex had been organised as a “trial”.
The form included a section in which the women had to indicate what type of sexual services they were comfortable in providing.
Onnis later told one woman after they had had sex that she had failed the audition.
When interviewed by police, Onnis said it was the only way he could have sex with beautiful women.
Judge Gamble said he had no doubt Onnis’ victims had been adversely affected by his offending.
A sad but predictable consequence had been been that they were no longer as trusting as they once were, he said. One victim was worried that if she told her family they would be unable to forgive her for her stupidity.
Judge Gamble said Onnis was a loner who had minimal insight into his offending and a poor understanding of how he had breached his victims’ trust.
The judge said Onnis would require sex offender treatment when in custody.
Onnis had told a psychologist that his offending arose from loneliness, that what he had done was for companionship rather than sex, and that he was not a sexual predator.
But Judge Gamble did not accept this, saying Onnis’ conduct had “a predatory aspect to it”.
He jailed Onnis for eight years with a non-parole period of five years and placed him on the sexual offenders register for life.
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