Teacher who defiled student recorded as sex offender in first case of its kind
Judge said what teacher did was ‘completely unethical’
The woman, who cannot be identified least that identify her former student, was clutching a number of folded paper tissues and mostly kept her eyes to the floor. File photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times
The woman who had sex with her fifth year male student while employed as a substitute teacher was crying when she took a seat on the bench to one side of the court reserved for those accused or convicted of criminal offences.
“Will you stand up please?” said Judge Martin Nolan, who had earlier asked that the court be cleared of all those not connected with the case. It was 12.58pm.
The woman, who cannot be identified least that identify her former student, was clutching a number of folded paper tissues and mostly kept her eyes to the floor.
Dressed casually, every now and then a shiver passed through her. The judge, for his part, mostly looked straight ahead, towards the back of the court.
The woman on the bench had been 23 when she had sex twice with her then 16-year old student, in 2018. She had mistakenly believed that the age of consent was 16 (it is 17).
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, passed by the Oireachtas in 2017, created a new law for punishing those who have sex with persons under the age of consent.
It says the maximum sentence for those who have sex with children under the age of 17 (defilement) is seven years, but it rises to 15 years “if he or she is a person in authority”.
The new law defined persons in authority as not just parents and step parents but also teachers and others charged with the welfare of children.
During a sitting on Wednesday Judge Nolan was told there were no similar cases in the Irish judicial system to give guidance in relation to sentencing.
On Thursday, during sentencing, he mentioned on the side of mitigation such matters as the former teacher’s guilty plea, her hitherto clean criminal record, and her youth at the time of the acts that have “brought shame” on her.
The main aggravating factors were that she was in a position of authority and trust in relation to the “injured party” and had abused that trust.
The judge expressed the view that it was “completely unethical” for the teacher to have had sex with her student.
To do so with someone below the age of consent was a criminal matter, and it was that which had brought it “to this forum”, the judge said.
When he sentenced the woman to three years imprisonment, with two years to be suspended, the crying of a group of family members at the back of the court became audible. Soon afterwards the woman was taken from the court. It was all over by 1.05pm.
Lawyers not involved in the case said afterwards that the distinctive aspects of it were the woman’s wrongly held belief on the age of consent, the relatively narrow age difference between her and the student, and the fact that the case involves a woman defiling a boy, as against a man defiling a girl.
This latter aspect of the case was not alluded to by Judge Nolan and it is not known to what extent, if any, it impacted on his sentencing decision.
“It’s a hard one to talk honestly about, in the current climate,” said one experienced, male criminal barrister, who did not wish to be named.
The woman will be recorded as a sex offender, and is expected to lose her right to be a teacher. Judge Nolan expressed the view it was unlikely she would re-offend.
The Mountjoy Women’s Prison, where she will most likely serve her sentence, is currently overcrowded. However sex offenders do not usually get temporary release. It is likely that, on good behaviour, the woman will be released within eight months or so.