An Abbotsford female youth worker was acquitted on Thursday (Dec. 17) of the sexual exploitation of a teenage student in the late 1990s.
The woman, who is not being named because she was acquitted, was accused of having a sexual relationship with a teenage girl who was in an alternative-education program at an Abbotsford high school.
The name of the complainant, who is now an adult and identifies as male (and will be referred to as such throughout the rest of the article), is protected by a publication ban.
Justice Trevor Armstrong, speaking in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster, found the woman not guilty of two counts of sexual exploitation, saying much of the complainant’s testimony was not credible, while the accused’s evidence was “straightforward and lacking in evasiveness.”
The court heard that the pair met in the spring of 1996 – the student would have been 14 years old – in a program that provides emotional, academic and behavioural support, and the accused was a youth worker. She was in her early 30s at the time and married with two young children.
The woman testified that it was common for her to connect with students by going for walks with them and taking them out for coffee or a snack. She would also drive them to and from medical appointments and school.
“The accused said that she would use the phrases ‘I love you’ and ‘I care for you’ as indications of concern and care for students generally,” Justice Armstrong said in his ruling.
She said when she met the student in question, she began helping him after he experienced emotional and behavioural issues after his stepfather’s death.
She said she began driving him to and from school more often, and she would take him out when his mother would call for help to get him out of the house.
The youth worker also spent time with him in hospital after he attempted suicide and would accompany him to hockey practices, other programs and doctor’s appointments.
She said by June 1997, it appeared that the teen was becoming more dependent on her. She said the complainant visited her twice at one of her homes, and then stayed with her for a few days – at the request of his mother – at another home to which she had moved after separating from her husband.
“At this stage, she did not recognize the level of the complainant’s dependency on her. She now says she’s ashamed to overstep the boundaries that she should have recognized,” Armstrong stated.
The woman testified that the teen became “more demanding” about spending time with her when she told him she was getting back together with her husband in 1998. She said the student stated, “If you ignore me, I’ll tell people you’re not as good as people think you are.”
The accused denied that there was ever any sexual contact between the two, but the complainant testified that the pair’s relationship progressed to a sexual one by December 1996.
He said they had physical contact whenever possible, regularly leaving the school grounds several times a week.
He said they would drive or walk to different locations – including parks, logging roads, lakes and her home – and have sexual contact. He described several of these alleged encounters in court.
The complainant said, after the woman’s husband left, he began staying at her home and formed a close relationship with her kids.
“He testified that throughout this period, the accused had become his ‘Messiah’ and that he and the accused were going to remain a family. Later in their relationship, he said he hoped they could add a child at some point, but he agreed not to reveal their relationship to anyone until the year after his high school graduation,” Armstrong said.
The complainant testified that the relationship ended after the woman reunited with her husband. He said he eventually told an outreach worker about the relationship, but he didn’t want criminal charges pursued at that time.
But he said he went to police in 2018 when he realized he was suffering from trauma.
Armstrong said he did not find the complainant’s testimony to be credible, including allegations that the pair were “passionate” in sometimes-public locations, including kissing outside of Abbotsford Recreation Centre and by a lacrosse box.
“… the accused was a teacher of many years, and it is against the preponderance of probabilities that she would have put her entire career at risk in activity of an intimate and sexual nature that was visible to the public,” Armstrong said.
He said he believed the complainant had a motive to make the allegations of sexual impropriety.
“The complainant’s dependency on the accused, the complainant’s frustration and anger and disappointment at the end of the relationship – all demonstrate some evidence that he had a possible motive to push and punish the accused by making false accusations or that there is at least a reasonable doubt that the complainant evidence was coloured by those features,” Armstrong said.
The defence argued that the complainant’s evidence was “compelling and punctuated with specificity and detail that give the ring of truth.”
But although the judge said the relationship “exceeded the permissible and appropriate boundaries of the relationship,” he said he could not conclude beyond a shadow of a doubt that it had been sexual in nature.