A FEMALE PE teacher who friended a 14-year-old student on Snapchat, sent him sexually explicit images and then arranged to meet him in a classroom and in the school holidays so the pair could kiss and she could indecently assault him has been jailed for a maximum of three years and 10 months in Newcastle District Court.
The woman, who can now be identified as Katie Smith, was 26 and working at a Hunter high school in 2018 when she "blurred the boundaries" between teacher and student, initiating contact with the boy on social media.
Within a week, their conversation online became sexual and Smith began sending the student sexually explicit images of herself.
It was classic grooming; the images were designed to break down the conventional barrier between teacher and student, DPP Trial Advocate Kristy Mulley said during a sentence hearing last month.
Ms Mulley said the choice of application showed a "certain level of deceit" in itself; the feature of the popular photo-sharing app is that the photos disappear moments after they are sent.
And Smith "demonstrated a certain amount of psychological coercion" by encouraging the boy to delete any other images from his phone lest they both get in trouble.
The grooming began in Term 4 in 2018 and continued through the summer school holidays until 2019.
During that four-month period Smith and the student arranged to meet in an empty classroom at the school where they kissed and the teacher exposed her breast cleavage and touched his genitals through his pants.
Then in the school holidays the boy rode his BMX bike to a park to meet Smith. Again they kissed and she touched his genitals through his clothing.
The power imbalance between the pair was significant, Ms Mulley submitted, and should not be considered less severe because Smith was female.
"Any proposition that the power dynamics are less significant when it's a female teacher should be rejected," Ms Mulley told Judge Kara Shead last month. "The community does not tolerate teachers of either gender having sexual relationships with students."
Smith, who sobbed in the court dock throughout Friday's sentence proceedings, had pleaded guilty to grooming a child for unlawful sexual activity, indecent assault on a person under the age of 16 and intentionally sexually touching a child between the age of 10 and 16, charges which each carry a maximum of 10 years in jail.
The age of the victim meant Smith was not entitled to be sentenced to an intensive corrections order, meaning she could either be jailed or receive the equivalent of a good behaviour bond.
Ms Mulley had pushed for a jail term to be imposed, saying the grooming occurred over a significant period of time and could not be characterised as spontaneous or impulsive.
"On the contrary it was the culmination of considered behaviour," Ms Mulley said.
But defence barrister John O'Sullivan had submitted there were alternatives to a full-time custodial sentence, citing the woman's ongoing treatment, remorse and the fact that she lost her career.
"The community would be better served if the offender was able to continue with her treatment and therefore she would be less likely to re-offend," Mr O'Sullivan said. "It is a long way from the worst case of indecent assault or sexual touching, in my submission."
Mr O'Sullivan said Smith was motivated by a "desire for male attention", stemming from her upbringing which was plagued by domestic violence.
On Friday, Judge Shead said Smith had exploited the student's vulnerability and manipulated him and then after she was arrested had minimised her involvement and deflected blame onto the student.
Judge Shead jailed Smith for a maximum of three years and 10 months, with a non-parole period of two years and three months.
She will be eligible for parole in December, 2022.
This story first appeared in the Newcastle Herald