A former high-school teacher has been jailed for having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student that went on to last eight years.
Sarah Elizabeth Collins, 41, was sentenced in Penrith District Court for 17 offences including several counts of sexual intercrouse with a person under 16 and indecent assault of someone the same age.
A jury found her guilty of the crimes in a trial in March.
The court heard Collins was a 24-year-old married schoolteacher when she met the then-13-year-old student who attended the school she taught at. Their first out-of-school encounter happened when Collins took the girl to hospital after she hurt herself playing soccer.
Reading her sentencing remarks, Judge Sophia Beckett said the pair developed a friendship over the next year in which Collins “took on a role as a mentor and confidant”.
When the victim developed a serious health issue, Collins connected her with counselling and spoke to her parents about her concerns.
The court was told the victim had a “fractious” relationship with her parents, who “accepted” Collins into the family” because their daughter was happier and healthy around her and they were worried she’d run away if they upset her.
When the victim was aged 15, her emotional relationship with Collins turned sexual.
Collins’ offending happened in the year before the student turned 16, at which time the victim moved schools and the relationship became consensual. It continued for a total of eight years.
The court heard the couple broke up in 2014 and Collins, who lives in Bundeena in Sydney’s southern outskirts, divorced her male husband in 2019.
In a moving victim impact statement, the former student told the court she went on to develop complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and depression.
Upon realising her relationship with Collins contributed heavily to her mental health issues, she reported the offending to police several years after they severed contact.
Referencing the impact statement, Judge Beckett said the victim spoke of a “misplaced sense of shame and felt she’d been robbed of her virginity, and that the love and care (shown by Collins) were illusions”.
“She… was emotionally vulnerable and easily influenced. She felt a responsibility to protect the offender by keeping it secret, which had the impact of isolating her from peer group.”
Judge Ellis said Collins was “not a pedophile”.
She said the former teacher developed depression and anxiety as a result of hiding her sexuality since childhood and her marriage problems.
These issues “manifested at the relevant time” and played a role in her choice to enter the relationship with the victim, despite knowing it was against the law and her profession.
Judge Ellis said Collins did not seek the victim out because of her young age, and went on to have loving consensual adult relationships with a clean criminal record.
Despite finding these special circumstances, Judge Ellis concluded Collins should be jailed, saying the community does not tolerate an abuse of trust and authority when it comes to children.
“Parents have the right to drop their kids off at school knowing they will be protected by teachers, not that they need to be protected from them,” Judge Ellis said.
Collins was sentenced to 30 months in prison with a non-parole period of 15 months. She will be released on parole on January 11, 2025.