Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC [Sydney, Australia]
September 22, 2022
By Joanna Menagh
A teacher at a Perth Catholic college, who claimed his sexual abuse of a teenage student was a “mutually beneficial relationship”, has been jailed for more than six years, with a judge slamming his explanation as an attempt to “victim blame”.
- The 40-year-old teacher began sexually abusing the student when she was 16
- Some of the offences occurred in a classroom, and others in the girl’s home
- The man won’t be eligible for parole until November 2026
The name of the man, and the school where he was a maths teacher, cannot be published to protect the identity of the victim, who was 16 and 17 when he repeatedly sexually assaulted her in her final year of studies.
He was 40 at the time and married, and met the victim at a religious retreat at the start of the year when what was described in the District Court as a “mentor/mentee relationship” started.
The court heard the teacher confided in the girl about his marital problems including that he and his wife were sleeping in separate beds.
State prosecutor George Brett said the relationship between the teacher and girl then turned sexual, with some of the offences committed in a classroom of the northern suburbs school.
Mr Brett said other offences were committed when the teacher went to the victim’s house for weekly tutoring sessions, for which he was being paid $50 by her mother.
At times the girl resisted his requests for sex, but she said she ended up relenting after he told her he would mark her down in her exams.
Accused claimed victim wanted ‘relationship’
Mr Brett said the teacher’s offences also included late night phone calls in which he spoke to the victim in what was described as a “sexually provocative manner.”
More than a decade later, in 2021, the girl reported what happened to police and he was charged.
The court heard in an interview with police, he maintained it was the victim who wanted “a relationship”, that he brushed her off but she told him to take it seriously.
He also described one of his offences – sexual intercourse with the girl — as “sexual fumbling”.
The man later pleaded guilty to 10 charges including sexually penetrating a child, indecent dealing and encouraging a child to engage in sexual behaviour — all of the counts included the aggravating factor of the girl being “under the care, supervision or authority” of the man.
His lawyer Neville Barber said his client deeply regretted the offences, which he accepted should not have occurred.
Mr Barber said while the relationship was “forbidden and wrong” the man regarded it as one that was “mostly a loving and genuine relationship” — something Judge Charlotte Wallace took to task.
Victim targeted due to ‘vulnerabilities’
Judge Wallace said rather than any kind of “mutually emotional supportive relationship”, what had happened was the man was grooming the victim so he could abuse her, in particular by “offloading” his marital problems to her.
“What appears to be the case to me, this is a very clear example of grooming a vulnerable teenager in a situation of clear power and authority disparity.
“…This was a very manipulative, controlling and coercive situation,” she said.
Judge Wallace also questioned a psychological report that had been prepared for the man’s sentencing, which she said suggested the teacher had been pursued relentlessly by the student before eventually acquiescing to her demands.
“Nowhere in the report does it say … he was looking for sexual gratification because he clearly was,” she said.
“Nowhere in the report does the psychologist acknowledge or comment on the nature of the controlling and coercive behaviour you exhibited towards the victim.”
“I have to say …. how troubled I was to read a report which appears to encapsulate victim blaming in the context of child sexual offending.”
She also said she was concerned about the report referring to the offences as “an error of judgement” and “past transgressions.”
“This is a clear example of abusing your trusted position of power and authority,” she told the man.
“You targeted the victim due to her particular vulnerabilities.”
Victim showed ‘great courage’
Judge Wallace praised what she called the victim’s “great courage and strength” in coming forward and referred to her victim impact statement in which she said she felt the teacher had stripped her of her teen years and crushed her spirit.
The victim, who is now in her 20s, also said at the time she felt trapped in having to submit herself to the man to keep his anger at bay.
In contrast the judge said she considered the man’s explanation for his offending – that the student was somehow dominant and he took a more submissive or passive role – as an attempt to minimise and justify his actions and apportion blame to the victim.
Judge Wallace imposed a jail term of six years and two months on the man.
He will have to serve four years and two months before he can be released, meaning his earliest eligibility for parole is in November 2026.