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Woman raped in Balmoral caravan tells court of 'downward spiral' since incident, trial delays

A woman who was raped by two men at a birthday party in south-west Victoria says her life has been a "cursed downward spiral" since it happened.

A County Court jury in August found Shaun Bloomfield and Luke Merryfull, both 28, guilty of raping the woman at a party near Balmoral, south-east of Horsham in western Victoria, in April 2016.

It was the second time the pair had been found guilty of the crime, after their initial conviction was overturned on appeal when a witness came forward with new evidence the day after the men were jailed in 2019.

The woman was in court today to read from a victim impact statement.

She said six years and eight months later, the rape still affected every aspect of her life.

 "I was studying a career in psychology and building friendships, and then everything changed in one moment," she said.

"I was raped by people I trust and the community I once called home discarded me."

The victim said she had depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, and was unable to work for more than 10 hours a week.

She also spoke of "horrific flashbacks", which led to her experiencing weight loss and painful eczema.

"I wanted to spend my life helping people, but now I am spending my life trying to help myself each day," she said.

She also said she felt the community blamed her for the rape after it happened.

"The rumours I heard about myself were horrific, and going through this while recovering from the assault made it harder," she said.

"I moved interstate to begin the process of healing. I had to start my life again with very few supports around me. It has taken a lot of work and perseverance to rebuild my life."

Delays and mistrials

It has taken four trials across almost seven years for the legal process to reach this point.

After the 2019 verdict was overturned on appeal, the COVID-19 pandemic and a juror doing their own research led to retrials being abandoned twice this year.

Bloomfield and Merryfull have each served 588 days of pre-sentence detention.

Both men's lawyers said the extraordinary delays to the final verdict and good character references meant Bloomfield and Merryfull deserved an unusual amount of leniency in their sentences.

The defence told the court that neither man should return to prison, as it would be of no benefit to the community given both men had established strong support networks and employment since the incident.

The prosecution disagreed, saying the offending was too serious to exclude further prison time and that neither man had expressed remorse.

Judge David Brooks said he was not convinced either way if further prison was necessary, adjourning the case until February 7, 2023.

Both men will be assessed to determine whether a community corrections order would be a more suitable punishment.

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