A teacher is living as a “pariah” in her small country town and is ridiculed in the street after she was convicted of having sex with a student almost half her age.
Monique Ooms, 31, shed a few tears in court this week as she learnt she would be spared jail after an appeal against her “merciful” sentence was rejected in Victoria’s Court of Appeal.
Ooms had moved to Maffra in Victoria’s Gippsland region at the start of last year to take up a post teaching outdoor education when she met the 16-year-old student.
She was in a “fragile mental state” after being dumped when her partner found out she was infertile, and, in May, began to bond with the boy, who was struggling mentally following the death of a friend.
What initially started out as messages of support between the pair progressed to Ooms sending pictures of herself in her underwear to the victim.
Their contact escalated with messages sent between the pair saying things like “love you” and “I miss you”, before the boy requested they meet up in July.
He snuck out of home and was picked up by Ooms, and the pair spoke about the “appropriateness” of what they were doing before eventually kissing.
Over July and into early August Ooms had sex with the boy up to 10 times in her car and, later, at her Maffra home.
Their contact ceased after the school received two anonymous letters in August and she was suspended from teaching in September.
Ooms was sentenced to a four-year community corrections order with 300 hours of community work and counselling in March, after pleading guilty to four counts of sexually penetrating a child under her care, supervision or authority.
The boy told police he believed Ooms had been a good friend to him in his time of need.
“I just want to say that she’s very nice, she’s a very nice person and I know — I know for a fact that she wasn’t trying to get at me to try and be a predator or anything like that,” he said.
I believe that she genuinely had feelings for me and I know I did. As much as it’s wrong, as much as I knew it felt wrong, I just — I know that she — she’s not like that.”
Sentencing her, Judge John Smallwood said that while the offending would usually attract a jail term, he had been persuaded not to.
“I do not find that this offending was in any way, shape or form predatory,” he said.
“I am satisfied there is no pressure at all put on him… It was simply a situation where neither of you was thinking particularly straight and you were the one with the responsibility, not him.
“You were both aware of the legal wrongness ... but it continued.”
Judge Smallwood took into account her previous good character, troubled upbringing, fragile mental health and “extreme” public backlash in making the decision.
“The public opprobrium is, I suppose, a natural consequence of this type of offending,” he said.
“It has gone to a fairly extreme level with a person as fragile as you.”
Since the offending came to light, Ooms, the court was told, has become a “pariah”, losing jobs and being confronted when out in public.
She reported feeling “ostracised” in her community and has been yelled at and ridiculed while walking her dog, been refused service at her local supermarket and lost jobs after threats of a community boycott.
Ooms, who fell pregnant after she was sentenced, was seen with a hand over her belly as she walked into the Court of Appeal on Tuesday.
The Director of Public Prosecutions had argued her sentence was “manifestly inadequate” urging the court to find Judge Smallwood had failed to take into account how her teaching role had assisted in the offending.
This was rejected by a three-Judge panel, who observed that while the sentence was “lenient and perhaps merciful” it was a conspicuous example of a Judge undertaking individualised justice.
Ooms, the court was told, felt shame and remorse at her actions and presented a low risk of reoffending.