On an April morning in 2013, four year-old Aron Siermans sat alone by his dead mother’s body as day broke over Ballarat. When his mother’s friend dropped by to check on the single mum, who had not been returning text messages, Aron answered the door.
“There was a big man last night and he bashed mummy with a bat,” the little boy said.
“Mummy won’t wake up to give me any breakfast.”
They are words that will forever haunt the Siermans family. That this innocent child most likely watched his mother die a brutal death at the hands of a relative stranger is a horror too awful to contemplate. That single mum Sharon met her murderer on an online dating site has led to calls for greater regulation of an industry at the height of its popularity.
Meanwhile, Aron has been left to live with his grandparents, John and Denise. When The Weekly visited, the kid with a smile as wide as his face showed off the memorial garden he has built for his mother. It is planted with roses and pansies - cuttings from flowers that were given to the family in the wake of Sharon’s death.
And while for the most part, Aron is your typically chatty four-year-old, there is one thing he won’t speak about - and his grandparents don’t push him. Each of them will spend the rest of their lives trying to process the full horror of what they have experienced; to grieve the passing of a much-loved mother and daughter.
And to wonder at how different it all could have been.
In December 2013, career criminal Jason Dinsley was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Sharon Siermans.
In the early hours of an April morning this same year, he broke into Sharon’s Ballarat home and attempted to rape her. When she fought back, he brutally bashed her with a cricket bat, then slit her throat and left her to die, all while her terrified son Aron hid nearby.
Sharon had met Dinsley on a dating website.
According to his internet dating profile, Jason Dinsley was a grieving romantic who hadn’t been in a relationship since the tragic death of his fiancée in a car crash seven years earlier. The country lad was finally plucking up the courage to go online and find happiness again.
Sharon Siermans was also looking for love when she logged on to the free dating site Plenty of Fish. She was 29 and cautious. Online dating wasn’t really her thing, but the busy single mum had little time to be out and about looking for love the traditional way. She’d had a couple of coffee dates with men who seemed genuine, but no great romance had emerged.
Jason Dinsley seemed like a friendly type of guy when his profile was matched to hers. He lived nearby and they struck up an online rapport. They talked online frequently and then began exchanging text messages.
He seemed romantic and would send her messages with hearts or flowers attached. He was wooing her and after a bad previous relationship, she was open to romance. She eventually agreed to meet him at the bustling Ballarat train station.
But when they met, Dinsley didn’t resemble the image she’d come to know on screen. He was dirty and dishevelled and had teeth missing. Sharon felt sorry for him, but was too embarrassed to be seen in public with him, so instead of lunch at a nearby restaurant she offered to have coffee with him at her home then drop him back to the station.
As the ‘date’ progressed, she became increasingly uneasy and secretly arranged for a friend to call saying her son was sick and she needed to go urgently. She drove Dinsley back to the train station and hoped she’d never see him again.
But sadly she did.
“Never, ever, go on to a dating website,” warns Sharon’s heartbroken mum Denise Siermans.
“You just don’t know who you’re talking too. I wish all of them were shut down so no family ever has to go through what we’re going through.”
Online dating has reached fever pitch in Australia with more than 3 million people registered as active members of online dating sites, with divorced older women and single mothers among the greatest growth groups.
But after a recent spate of shocking online dating related crimes, experts are now seriously concerned about the lack of regulation governing these sites.
“Not in a pink fit would I ever go onto a dating website,” says globally renowned cyber safety expert Susan McLean.
The former Australian police officer who now specialises in internet safety says bluntly: “Online dating is far more dangerous than dating in the real world, these predators are not going to start their profile by saying ‘hi I am a convicted rapist.’"
Sharon Siermans wasn’t to know that Jason Dinsley was far from the larrikin Aussie bloke his profile suggested. He hadn’t had a relationship for seven years because he’d been in jail for the brutal knife-point rape of a 52 year old woman. He had a long criminal record which began when he was 14, and at the time of murdering Sharon, he was on parole with almost 100 convictions to his name.
In February 2013, 67-year-old Perth grandmother Jetta Jacobs was murdered after she was lured to South Africa by a man she met online.
“The industry is unregulated, these websites say they have terms and conditions but what checks do they really do?” asks Susan McLean.
“We urgently need sweeping changes to the online dating industry, and we urgently need a public sex offenders registry so people can check who they are communicating with.”
John and Denise Siermans will never get over the shocking murder of their daughter, but they are trying their best to get on with life while taking on the task of raising Aron.
The Siermans family are now calling for greater reform of the industry that allows the likes of Dinsley to lure innocent victims. They have suffered an additional blow that Dinsley was on parole he murdered Sharon, like the killers of Jill Meagher and Sarah Cafferkey.
They have established a foundation to educate the community about violence against women and will campaign hard to warn women of the dangers of looking for love online.
In the United States in 2013, a Las Vegas woman became the first in the world to sue a dating website after she was matched to a man who brutally stabbed her ten times in the face and chest. Mary Beckman, 50, filed a lawsuit against Match.com, claiming she joined the website looking for a ‘healthy loving relationship’ and instead she was almost killed.
In response, Match.com claimed that online dating was “no less safe than meeting someone at a bar or church”.
But Susan McLean disagrees; “In the real world you are likely to meet someone who is in your circle somehow, or at a place that is in some way familiar to you, perhaps via someone you know, your work, or a place you frequent. You can use your instincts immediately and you are far more likely to have your wits about you. For every sad online case that makes the news, there’s plenty of other stories of women who’ve had bad experiences online but are too embarrassed to own up.”
John and Denise Siermans know that all too well, during his trial it was revealed that Jason Dinsley had been bombarding Sharon with hateful text messages and death threats after she rejected him. Sharon was too embarrassed to let anyone know. Her parents knew she had been using a dating site but they were unaware of how fearful the “amazing mother with a big heart” had become of Dinsley.
“Sharon was nearly 30, not all people in their 20’s tell their parents what’s happening in their lives, but God I wish she had,” Denise Siermans says.
“We’re just a normal Australian family but with the click of a button she made the wrong choice, if this can happen to us it can happen to anyone.”
This article originally appeared in The Australian Women's Weekly.