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The small, sleepy Australian town "ripped apart" by a rape case.  

If you visited Balmoral, a rural town about a four hour drive from Melbourne, you’d likely be struck by how quiet it is.

With a population of little more than 200, the town curls around the banks of the Glenelg River, with river red gums coating the surrounding countryside.

You don’t get much more quintessentially Australian than that.

But within it, among the idyllic fishing, swimming and camping spots, is a case that has broken the sleepy town.

A young woman has left, swearing never to return. She’s stayed hundreds of kilometres away, afraid to even revisit Victoria.

How do men and women avoid sexual assault everyday? Post continues below. 

And two men are being fiercely defended by their community who filled the seats of a courtroom.

In 2016, the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, attended a 21st birthday party in Balmoral.

Two of her friends, Shaun Bloomfield and Luke Merryfull, were also in attendance.

During the night, the two men, now 24, propositioned her for a ‘threesome’ inside a caravan where she had planned to sleep.

“Absolutely no way,” the woman said, according to testimony heard in the Victorian County Court earlier this month. Her prosecutor, Daryl Brown, told the court, “she said that [‘no’] throughout the ordeal”.

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The woman wrapped herself in a blanket in an attempt to avoid the two men.

They proceeded to wedge her between them in a bed, and took turns raping her through the early hours of the morning.

During the rape, Merryfull said words to the effect of, “she’s all yours now,” to Bloomfield.

The men maintained throughout the trial that the sex was consensual, but this month a jury found Bloomfield guilty of two counts of rape and one count of sexual assault, and Merryfull guilty of one count of rape.

Bloomfield will serve a minimum of three years and four months before becoming eligible for parole, and a maximum of five years and eight months. Merryfull will serve a minimum of two years and 10 months, and a maximum of four years and 10 months.

But while a jury found the two men guilty, the town itself continues to defend them.

The Melbourne court was full with supporters of the two men. Merryfull’s lawyer even said it was a “testament” to the two men that so many believed them.

“I don’t often see this many people in court… this is extraordinary,” Judge Gerard Mullaly said.

The woman, however, can never see herself returning to Balmoral, where her family still live.

In a victim impact statement, the woman said. “The last three years of my life have been the worst I’ve had to go through… Two friends I trusted… this crime will always have an impact on my life.”

She now takes medication for her mental health and sees a therapist fortnightly, hoping to recover from the Post-traumatic stress disorder she suffers from.

A community member told news.com.au, “The whole matter has ripped apart the community of a beautiful, sleepy little hollow where generations of families have lived.”

“In a small community like this there is a huge bias, which has resulted in some people taking sides with Bloomfield and Merryfull.”

Judge Mullaly said that both men were being supported by their families and employers, meaning it’s likely their lives as they know them, will continue when they are released.

“These were opportunistic crimes but they were serious and selfish where you put your sexual gratification above the ordinary human dignity and feelings of your (victim). That is shameful and the devastating impact on her is still resonating,” Judge Mullaly said.

But it’s the young woman who has lost her home.

While she lives through ongoing trauma, avoiding a place which she associates with the worst experience of her life, the men, it would seem, have been forgiven by those whose opinions they value most.

And in a matter of years, their home will be waiting for them – almost like nothing ever happened.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

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