Parents and advocates against sexual violence are raging after dozens of folks, including educators and guidance counselors, spoke out in court in support of a colleague who molested a 14-year-old Exeter High School student.
The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence blasted the show of support for former guidance counselor Kristie Torbick in a statement Tuesday.
“It’s alarming these guidance counselors have attempted to justify the actions of one of their peers and have asked the court for leniency in this case. A guidance counselor’s role is to foster the development of a child, not to defend an admitted child molester,” the Coalition wrote.
“Their irresponsible statements send the message to students that this behavior is somehow acceptable, and we hope that their actions have not deterred other victims from coming forward.”
Torbick begged Rockingham County Superior Court Judge Andrew Schulman for “compassion and mercy” at her Monday sentencing, after she admitted to molesting a freshman student on numerous occasions in December 2016 and January 2017, the Union Leader reports.
The 39-year-old previously pleaded guilty to four felony sexual assault charges, and her colleagues flooded the court hearing to request leniency.
“Nearly two dozen people attended the sentencing on Torbick’s behalf and several spoke about how she had used poor judgement but was a dedicated mother, guidance counselor and volunteer at a cancer camp for children and was committed to making young lives better,” according to the news site.
“No doubt, Kristie’s crossing of professional boundaries, the particulars of which are not evident to most of us in this room today and shall remain unknown. However, I know in my heart the intent was for her to help. This is the character of the person facing sentencing here today,” Shelly Philbrick, a counselor at Newfound Regional High School, told the court.
Prosecutors pointed out the obvious: Torbick leveraged her position over a vulnerable 14-year-old student to sexually assault him, then attempted to hide her crimes.
Others, including state Rep. Debra Altschiller, condemned Torbick.
“Ms. Torbick is sadly just another perpetrator. She might have bought Girl Scout cookies and done some really great things in her life, but she abused her authority and sexually assaulted a student,” Altschiller said.
Schulman ultimately slapped the former counselor with two and a half to five years in prison, with a seven- to 14-year suspended sentence. She’ll serve about half as much time as prosecutors think she deserves.
According to WMUR:
Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway weighed in on the judge’s decision Tuesday, saying in a statement that, while her office “respects the decision of the court, it disagrees with the sentencing decision given Torbick’s actions and the position that she held.”
As part of her sentence, Torbick must also give up her education credentials.
The case is eerily similar to a 2013 Michigan case involving a male teacher who was convicted of molesting teen male student. Rose City Middle School teacher Neal Erickson was convicted of repeatedly raping the student over the course of three years, from 2006 to 2009, and sentenced to 15-30 years in prison.
The case sparked community outrage when several of the district’s teachers wrote letters of support for Erickson, pleading for a lenient sentence. A school board member, Mike Eagan, also drew the public’s ire when he sat with the Erickson family at the pedophile’s sentencing.
Hundreds of parents pulled their children out of the district when the school board refused to terminate employees who publicly supported Erickson, though officials ultimately decided to keep the teachers out of fear of legal retribution.
Amazingly, the Michigan Education Association, Erickson’s union, later attempted to force the West Branch-Rose City school district into paying the convicted child molester a $10,000 severance buyout, EAGnews previously reported.
On March 26, 2013 WB-RC officials offered a $10,000 buyout for any qualifying teacher who left the school district that year, an incentive superintendent Dan Cwayna said the district had used in the past to encourage needed staff reductions.
While it’s not clear when Erickson’s employment was terminated, the union’s action suggested he was still on the payroll when the buyout was offered and accepted it.
“When the first payment was sent out … and the union discovered we did not make the payment to Mr. Erickson, they filed a grievance on his behalf,” Cwayna said.