A woman subjected to two years of incessant online harassment by a Milton teenager has shared some of the vicious messages she received which included a call for her to drink bleach and video it.
The harassment was described by a judge as the worst such case he had seen.
Tahlia Aloma Cochrane, 19, — a beneficiary who previously described herself online as a “model/influencer/photographer/rapper” — used more than 120 online profiles to target 21-year-old Ella Gouman, the Dunedin District Court heard yesterday.
Every time the victim blocked an account from which she received abuse, another one would pop up and the vitriol would continue.
“On and on and on,” Judge Kevin Phillips said.
“Since the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 came into place, I’ve dealt with a number of people who have offended against those provisions, but the case against you is the worst in my recall of any of those cases.”
Cochrane pleaded guilty to two charges under the Act — relating to conduct on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok and Trade Me — and was on bail awaiting sentencing when she struck again.
In mid-2020, she stole the victim’s clothes and make-up and cut the cord on her hair straighteners, resulting in two theft charges being laid.
Gouman, in an emotional victim-impact statement, described how her mental health had plummeted during the ordeal.
“Some nights I would go to bed and hear Tahlia’s messages repeating in my head,” she said.
About the time of lockdown, the victim told the court, the malicious messages reached a crescendo and she deleted all social media accounts.
So Cochrane moved on to Gouman’s younger sister and bombarded her with abuse instead.
Later, she got hold of the victim’s phone number and called her repeatedly.
“She was relentless,” Gouman said.
“The fact someone could get satisfaction from something so nasty is disturbing.”
There was no obvious flashpoint that gave rise to the harassment, and Gouman assumed the reason for the hatred was because she began dating Cochrane’s former boyfriend.
Regardless, Judge Phillips was staggered by the vindictiveness of the repeated attacks.
Cochrane would make derogatory remarks about Gouman’s appearance and continually encouraged her to kill herself.
“How’s your mental health,” the defendant messaged on one occasion, followed by a laughing emoji.
Defence counsel Ann Leonard said her client’s upbringing had led to her being diagnosed with a personality disorder.
“She told me it was like somebody flicking a switch and she can’t stop,” Leonard said.
“She becomes so angry she has to lash out.”
Cochrane, she told the court, had struggled with self-harm and social-media addiction, was getting counselling and now had insight into the seriousness of her crimes.
However, the judge was not so sure.
“I don’t really accept you’re sorry about it,” he said.
He pointed to comments Cochrane had made to Probation which implied she had only targeted Gouman because of something the victim originally posted online.
Judge Phillips called it “an absolute nonsense” but he was faced with a quandary over how to deal with the cyberstalker.
“I have to ask myself if your attempts to destroy Gouman should result in the court and justice system destroying you and your life.” he said.
“I don’t think it is justifiable.”
Rather than imprisonment, Cochrane was sentenced to six months’ community detention and 12 months’ intensive supervision, during which she was banned from using social media or contacting the victim.
She was ordered to pay Gouman $3057.
Judge Phillips declined an application by the Otago Daily Times to photograph Cochrane.
Where to get help:
• 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202
• NATIONAL ANXIETY 24 HR HELPLINE: 0800 269 4389
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
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