A 37-year-old Ballarat man who inappropriately touched two 12-year-old girls, including his step-daughter, has avoided immediate imprisonment because he pleaded guilty early.
The man, who The Courier cannot name as it would identify his step-daughter, was sentenced to a two-year community corrections order at the Ballarat Magistrates Court on Friday.
The former prison officer was convicted and placed on the sex offender's register for 15 years.
He pleaded guilty to two counts of an indecent act with a child under 16, which related to incidents in October 2014 and January 2019.
Police prosecutor Senior Constable Simon Pearce said the man was living with his step-daughter in a rural town outside Ballarat when the first incident occurred in her bedroom on October 1, 2014.
He said the man was having a few drinks and watching the football when he went into his step-daughter's bedroom to check on her as she had complained of stomach pain.
The man asked the girl, who was not wearing a bra, to show him her stomach before telling her to lift up her top and he briefly touched both her breasts.
"The victim froze. The accused quickly moved away and out of the bedroom," Senior Constable Pearce said.
The girl told another child, who lived nearby, what had happened and she then told her mother. The Department of Health and Human Services was notified.
In March, 2014, the 12-year-old girl attended a police station and made a complainant against her step-father. He then attended the Ballarat Police Station by appointment and was arrested.
Senior Constable Pearce said the man denied the allegations, stating there was no sexual assault.
The second incident occurred in January, 2019, when the man's 12-year-old female neighbour attended his house, located outside Ballarat, to play with his children.
The court was told the girl had telephoned her mother on an iPad and the man was outside the house with her when he squeezed her bottom over her clothes.
Senior Constable Pearce said the man later told the girl, "I am sorry for what I did. I didn't realise". He was arrested in February and taken to the Ballarat Police Station where he denied the offending.
Defence barrister Bradley Newton said it was significant the matter had resolved to a guilty plea, which had saved two children from giving evidence in a contested hearing.
"It's a matter that would be entitled to a significant discount on sentence," Mr Newton said.
He said his client had left school in year 11 and worked in supermarkets where he met his first partner and they had two children. He was most recently employed as a prison officer but was stood down after the sexual allegations were made.
"In all the circumstances my client is in a position where he is caring for two young boys and trying to survive without the prospect of being employed in those areas he was previously employed," Mr Newton said.
Magistrate Ron Saines described the man's behaviour as serious and repeated offending, which involved two girls.
"This is conduct which is wholly unacceptable and requires denunciation. This is repeated conduct involving young children," Mr Saines said.
The man was sentenced to a two-year community corrections order, with conviction. He will be required to complete 150 hours of unpaid community work and a sex offender program, and undergo treatment and rehabilitation for mental health.
The magistrate told the man that offending of this type would receive imprisonment but his guilty plea "came with a great deal of weight in your favour".
The guilty plea showed he had accepted responsibility for his offending, Mr Saines said.
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