By Qiuyi Tan, Open Justice reporter of
In a two-week exchange of explicit texts, photos and videos via Snapchat, a teacher groomed a teenage girl as a form of escape during New Zealand’s first Covid-19 lockdown.
The young teen believed the man, many years older than her and a teacher at her school, cared about her.
“You have ruined two years of my life and left a mark on my previous years that I cannot erase,” she said in a letter to the Auckland District Court.
The man, who was sentenced to house arrest for six months in September, was given a permanent name this week.
Judge Kathryn Maxwell ruled that the man would likely suffer extreme hardship if named given the state of his mental health.
She said he posed no risk to the public, that he had repented and taken responsibility, and that his teaching registration had been cancelled.
“He will never teach again,” said the judge.
In 2019, the young man taught at the girls’ school in another class where she often went to help him after school.
Once she told him she was not a virgin. He reported this to the director, who advised him to keep his distance. On his advice, the young man blocked the girl when she added him on Instagram.
In 2020, New Zealand went into lockdown for the first time due to Covid-19 and the man, then 23, suffered acute burnout and was overwhelmed by his responsibilities as a teacher.
On Instagram, he unblocked the girl, who was no longer a student at his school.
He asked her to download Snapchat, where they began exchanging explicit messages, photos, and videos of themselves over the next two weeks.
The man also asked her several times to meet at a playground, but she told him she couldn’t leave the house in lockdown.
Their messages stopped when she started to feel uncomfortable and asked him to stop.
In her victim impact statement, she said she believed the man had good intentions, but he was taking advantage of her, she said.
Later, she started having nightmares and was afraid to go to sleep, which made her depressed and anxious.
It was a struggle to open up to others because her friends thought it was a joke that she thought he cared, she said.
“No young girl should go through what I went through,” she said.
“No one should exploit my naivety the way you did. You ruined two years of my life and left a mark on my previous years that I cannot erase.”
The man told a counselor that he was emotionally overwhelmed with teaching and had lost sight of his limits. The insulting was “a form of escapism” for him in lockdown, he said.
He previously pleaded guilty to one charge of indecent communication with a youth and asked to be discharged without conviction, but was dismissed by the court.
At his sentencing hearing, prosecutor James Dalton pleaded for the man’s registration as a sex offender, saying it was a serious breach of trust by a young victim.
Judge Maxwell denied the sex offender registration, citing his burnout at the time, his relative youth, remorse and low risk of recidivism.
“You have lost your job as a licensed teacher, your career and prospects are significantly affected,” she said.
In addition to the sentence of house arrest, he was ordered to pay $4,160 in reparations to the victim.
* This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.
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