A man has been imprisoned after he repeatedly sexually assaulted a European woman on Belongil Beach.
A man has been imprisoned after he repeatedly sexually assaulted a European woman on Belongil Beach. Marc Stapelberg

'Extraordinary' woman kept rapist nearby as she sought help

COLLECTING shells on a beach, passing a meditating man, there was no sign of the terror she was about to face.

But a young woman has been commended by District Court Judge Julia Baly for the way she dealt with a "terrifying" ordeal at Belongil Beach in Tyagarah.

It was June 6, 2017. The European woman had been in Australia on a student visa since the previous year and had arrived in Byron Bay just days before.

Zane Rowe, 33, was meditating when the woman first encountered him.

She kept walking, but he began following her.

The two spoke for some time, and he ultimately claimed to have a gun - which he threatened to kill her with - before subjecting her to repeated sexual assaults.

Reading from police facts, Judge Baly said Rowe, a disability pension recipient who lived in Coffs Harbour, told his victim he was about to rape her although he "didn't really want to".

When asked why he would do this, he said: "You asked for it. You came to a nude beach all by yourself".

After the attack the woman tried to leave and Rowe said: "You are in my country and you can do what I say".

The court heard the woman had "truly feared for her life" during the attack.

Remarkably, the woman - who Judge Baly described not as a victim but a "survivor" - convinced Rowe to walk with her back to Byron Bay, where she sought help at her accommodation.

During their walk back to town, Rowe told the woman he "had to marry her" and made her hold his hand.

She said to him: "I'll give you a chance".

Judge Baly said the woman's strength in the face of this ordeal was commendable.

"What is both, to my mind, extraordinary and admirable, is that she was able to summon the strength to manage and, to some extent, take control of the situation," Judge Baly said.

"She had the courage and emotional strength to call upon her resources, including strength that she gained during her childhood, to steer the situation to one whereby she was able to get to a position of safety, and to raise the alarm.

"This was very clever conduct on her part.

"Her intelligence and resolve in so doing is a testament to her strength of character, and can only be admired."

Rowe was captured on CCTV at the door of the accommodation house as the woman alerted staff and the police were called.

Rowe had been carrying a bag, and she had no way of knowing he was lying about having a gun.

Police forced their way into Rowe's Department of Housing unit on June 16, 2017, before arresting him.

In his home, they found pornography shot in beach locations, and a blackboard bearing the message: "All woman are the enemy".

The court heard Rowe was diagnoses with schizophrenia in his 20s and that while he felt this illness was a "man-made construct", he would accept medication.

Judge Baly found his condition - exacerbated by a "flooding incident" in his home in February, 2017 - reduced his moral culpability somewhat.

But a forensic psychiatrist who assessed Rowe found he was "aware that what he was doing was, indeed, wrong".

Rowe had been in custody since June 16, 2017 and pleaded guilty to the six counts of aggravated sexual assault, committing an act of indecency and destroying or damaging property.

When she handed down her judgment on February 1, Judge Baly imposed a sentence of nine years and nine months' prison.

Rowe will not be eligible for parole until March 15, 2024.

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