Rapist’s vile diary entries revealed
The diary of convicted rapist David Latham has been discovered on a discarded mobile phone, located after he was jailed for repeatedly sexually assaulting his former wife: a disabled woman who uses a wheelchair and was dependent on him as her carer.
Between 2005 and 2014, David Latham repeatedly raped his former partner, later recording details of his chilling crimes and internal thought processes, in a notes section of his phone.
One entry reads: "[I] wonder what my problem is. Why was I continuing to hurt her? She's crying while I'm having my way with her … Why do I still think she is responsible?"
Another entry reads: "I'm not sure if my brain was even on at the time when I would violate [her] the way I did … it was not a sex attack in my mind, but a way of appeasing an emptiness inside me."
Elsewhere he says he feels like an "a**hole" for raping her while she was "unable to respond" due to being drugged, however he then goes on to provide a litany of excuses, blaming the rapes on "life stresses", feelings of "rejection", being "tired" due to their newborn son, and even his mother-in-law.
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The most commonly recurring theme throughout the diary entries, however, is blame for the victim herself and her own deteriorating mental health: "I know I've done a terrible thing to my wife, but why does she not see that she has a part to play in how things turned out? Her depression and my empathy towards that may have triggered something in me, which caused me to act out as I did," he wrote.
"I was constantly giving of myself to your every whim, from consoling you emotionally to making cups of tea. It takes two to tango."
Now, for the first time, the man's former wife, Nicole Lee, is speaking out about the diary entries hoping they will provide insight into how serious sexual offenders justify their behaviours to themselves and others.
Ms Lee has previously spoken to the media about the decade of abuse she endured at the hands of her former husband, but never in such detail.
She's been prompted to share her whole story, after spending nine months muzzled by an oppressive sexual assault victim gag-law, which was quietly introduced by the Victorian Government back in February.
In August, Ms Lee spearheaded the #LetUsSpeak campaign under the enforced pseudonym "Melissa", along with one other woman "Maggie" - who still cannot be named.
Now having finally won a court order exempting her from the victim gag-law, Nicole says she has been emboldened to share more of her story and is determined to never be silent again.
"Why should I protect anyone?" she said. "I've had a lot of time to reflect on what I want to say, and think about it, and now that I've finally received a legal exemption allowing me to speak, I want to say something which will educate and breakdown stigma and myths which sit around rape in marriage and disability."
A CHILLING TOUR THROUGH A RAPIST'S INNER WORLD
Dr Rachael Burgin, a criminologist and chair of Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy says the diaries provide an illuminating insight into how rapists manipulate facts, and justify their own behaviours in order to excuse and ultimately sustain their criminal offending.
"Recurring themes include feeling sorry for himself, justifying his actions, and shifting blame onto his victim by accusing her of being cold and emotionally distant. There is a superficial suggestion of guilt and remorse, but each time he expresses any regret, he immediately goes on to reveal his true feelings of aggression and contempt towards his victim by blaming her. It's yet another manipulation."
While the diaries include open discussions of rape, they tellingly omit the more cruel and sadistic details which only came out in court, and which are contained within the judge's 20-page sentencing remarks handed down in June 2015.
That document - shared with Nicole's Lee's full permission - describes how the pair first met through wheelchair tennis in 2004, and engaged in a "whirlwind romance", before a son was born 12 months later.
It was shortly after that, as Nicole began breastfeeding, that the rapes began.
"The first time was when my son was still a newborn in the bassinet beside the bed," says Nicole.
From there the rapes became more frequent and violent, and included anal, vaginal and digital rape - sometimes while Nicole was drugged asleep.
"I feel it is OK as she is not awake [due to being drugged]," Latham writes. "But was it a dream [to her] or is she just unable to respond to what is happening due to [the sleeping drug]?," he ponders in his notes.
As the abuse continued, Nicole developed severe anorexia, depression and anxiety. Distressingly, rather than sympathise, her husband degraded her further as a form of "punishment". According to the sentencing remarks, in one instance Nicole had passed out on the kitchen floor due to being faint with undereating. When she woke, Latham was kneeling above her and had forced his genitals into her mouth, telling her it was "punishment for not eating".
"At the time, he told me 'use this as motivation to eat,'" Nicole tells news.com.au.
At court this incident was described as a "monstrous" act. Yet Latham's diary contains a very different spin on the ongoing abuse: "Please believe I would never deliberately hurt you … At the time I believed I was making passionate love to the person I loved."
He continues: "It was not a sex attack in my mind, but a way of appeasing an emptiness inside me caused by not feeling any affection returned from you … I did the cuddles and was never cuddled," he writes.
In time, the abuse also turned physically violent, and at one point he kicked Nicole out of the wheelchair she uses.
"The most terrifying ordeal was when we got into an argument in the car - I don't even remember what it was about - and he turned to me while driving, his fist raised and his eyes locked on me, screaming that he was going to crash the car and kill us. He wasn't watching where he was going and he was speeding faster and faster crossing lanes on the freeway. There was a concrete wall beside me and cars on the other. I thought we were going to die. I remember thinking 'no one will even know what he's done to me'. He had nothing but rage in his face."
'HE WAS PAINTED AS A GOOD BLOKE AND LOVING FAMILY MAN'
In total, Latham pleaded guilty to four counts of rape, one charge of persistent contravention of a family violence order and one charge of recklessly causing injury.
"One of the rape charges was a representative charge, meaning it was supposed to account for many more times he'd raped me," says Nicole.
But despite the barbaric crimes, Latham was sentenced to just two years and six months jail, and at sentencing Nicole was shocked to hear the judge describe him in glowing terms, even praising him as a "quiet, gentle and caring man".
Latham, who had a leg amputated after developing bone cancer, was also praised for his "resilient nature", "excellent work history" and for being an "involved" parent to his own son.
Nicole, by contrast, was made out to be a burden who was riddled with "issues" and "difficulties". At one point the judge also accused her of being "unfaithful" over an unrelated incident where a tennis coach had previously tried to force himself on Nicole. The judge commented that the incident had likely triggered a "deep resentment and anger [in Latham] which was never properly dealt with and may partially explain" his offending.
"It was offensive," says Nicole. "He was put on a pedestal for taking on a single, disabled woman with a kid. He was seen as the 'true survivor' - not me - because he survived bone cancer. How was I meant to fight that?"
Nicole says that she feels that Latham's leg amputation and sporting hero status in the disability community also generated sympathy for him.
"Not only did I have to fight the 'helpless disabled woman who has become a burden on her carer' trope, and the 'single mother' trope, I also had to contend with his 'triumph over adversity' sporting hero trope," says Nicole.
"Ultimately disability was used against me as a double edged sword: his disability lessened his perceived responsibility. My disability was blamed for his decision to abuse me and negate his own accountability."
These tropes and stereotypes do not only pervade courtrooms: they also extend out into the rest of society, and are partly responsible for the high rates of sexual violence experienced by disabled women, and barriers to reporting.
According to the 2016 Personal Safety Survey one quarter of people with a severe or profound disability have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15 - that's more than two and a half times higher than the rate per capita for people without a disability.
Perceived vulnerability, lack of access to services, power imbalances between carers and the person they are abusing, and the systemic problems which support dangerous and toxic relations (through carer pensions and other means) all contribute to the high prevalence rates.
LET US SPEAK
Nicole says she is speaking out on all these issues to help generate change. But that hasn't always been easy.
Earlier this year, she encountered a whole new form of voicelessness when the Victorian Government quietly introduced the victim gag-law which prohibits survivors from speaking to media without a court order.
"I don't want to ever be in a courtroom again" she said at the time. "And I never thought that I ever would have to be in a courtroom again"
Between April and July, numerous letters were sent to the Attorney-General, Jill Hennessy, pleading for law reform, but when no commitment was forthcoming Nicole and a second woman "Maggie" decided to take their fight public, under enforced pseudonyms, and in August, the #LetUsSpeak campaign was launched.
Since then, public donations to the campaign GoFundMe have enabled 12 survivors to lodge applications to be exempted from the gag law and Nicole is now one of nine survivors who have successfully obtained exemptions.
But to Nicole's horror not only were offenders consulted during the process on whether or not their victims should be able to speak out - but in her case, the judge who was making the decision also elected to contact the original sentencing judge to get his thoughts on the matter too.
"The thought of those two blokes getting together to chat among themselves over my right to tell my own story is outrageous and paternalistic," she says.
And there are more battles ahead.
While the Government has committed to reforming the gag on living victims by the end of the year, a new Bill they have put before parliament contains a number of catches.
The first is that the proposed new law will gag grieving family members of murdered rape victims and prohibit them from ever saying their loved ones name to media, unless they also go through the expensive and traumatic process of applying for a court order.
The proposed law would also mean that all stories on Jill Meagher, Eurydice Dixon, Aiia Maasarwe, and others will need to be pulled down, or else jail time and financial penalties could apply.
Survivors, advocates & allies are protesting the proposed Bill in Victoria which will muzzle the relatives of murdered rape victims & criminalize the publication of their names, including Jill Meagher, Eurydice Dixon & Aiia Maasarwe. #LetUsSpeak @RapeReform @EROCAustralia pic.twitter.com/0p6yZX1kPv— Nina Funnell (@ninafunnell) November 4, 2020
The second catch is that living survivor advocates from Victoria - including Nicole - would risk having their own media portfolios and advocacy work erased on their death (a second court order would need to be obtained after her death for that work to remain up.)
Nicole says the entire situation is appalling and they will be replacing one gag law with another.
"We all die eventually and when we do, everything we've ever done [as survivor advocates] will need to be erased. I've already had to fight to obtain a court order to speak my name while I'm alive. I was never told there is an expiry period on it for when I die."
Nicole is committed to continuing her activism, but is adamant that this is not to be told as a simple 'triumph over adversity story', like so many others in the media.
She says media reporting which sanitises complex stories and experiences and "wraps them up into a nice little bow at the end" absolves the public of taking more action.
"We need to sit in what makes us uncomfortable. Because that is what is going to drive us to make changes," says Nicole.
"We need to sit and face that discomfort, confront it, work out 'what does this mean for me,' and then get active."
Nina Funnell is the creator of the #LetUsSpeak campaign in partnership with EROC Australia, Rape & Sexual Assault Research & Advocacy and Marque Lawyers. Click here to donate to the campaign.
Originally published as Rapist's vile diary entries revealed