She was a school leader and a mother of young children, supposedly a respected pillar of the community. She taught at a Marlborough school for more than a decade. He was a 14-year-old schoolboy, and not the only boy she sexually abused. Herald senior crime and justice reporter Anna Leask looks at the school sex-abuse case that rocked Blenheim.

Just after 5pm on Tuesday a gunmetal grey unmarked police car pulled slowly out of the back of the Blenheim District Court.

In the front, two officers.

In the back, a woman sitting alone, looking out the window.

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Her face was drawn.

In the back of the police car was a teacher jailed for sexually abusing two students under her care.

And it may not be her last time in court, with the Crown revealing it expects more boys to come forward and share their stories of abuse.

While she has been sentenced for abusing two students, she has also admitted engaging in sexual activity with "other older boys".

The woman, who cannot legally be named yet, had been at the school for more than a decade before her resignation - which came after her arrest.

During that time she targeted boys in lower socio-economic families; boys who played a particular sport.

Marlborough Boys' College has refused to comment on the case. Photo / Supplied
Marlborough Boys' College has refused to comment on the case. Photo / Supplied

The first victim named in the charging documents began to engage with the woman when they worked together on a school event in 2017.

His parents were probably proud that he was getting involved in extracurricular activities, exerting himself beyond the classroom.

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Little did they know he was effectively being groomed for sex by a person they should have been able to trust.

The woman - often while at home or with her own children - started to send him text messages asking about his sport, offering him rides to various places and telling him about her life.

That messaging ramped up until it was happening every day.

Lewd lunchtimes and trust breached

The pair soon started to spend "most lunchtimes" together and she unloaded on him about her personal problems.

"She would talk to him about her mental health problems and tell him that life was getting too hard for her and she needed someone to talk to," the court document reads.

"The defendant and the victim built up a trust and this led to (her) getting flirty with the victim."

She was in her 30s. The student was barely old enough to be left on his own legally.

The police summary of facts outlines how she would lean on the boy emotionally.

It was during one of those lunchtime meetings that the relationship became sexually abusive.

She drove him, in her personal vehicle, from school to the Mt Vernon carpark.

He was worried someone at school would notice his absence but she told him not to worry, she would "fix up" any problems.

At the carpark the woman became "emotional" and moved from the driver's seat to the back seat.

She invited the boy to join her.

Her car windows were tinted and nobody could see what was happening between the pair.

The teacher began to flirt with the boy. Then she climbed on to his lap and started to kiss him.

She touched him, performed an explicit act on him, asked him "have you had sex before?".

The boy avoided her question, telling her he had sport training and he needed to get back to town.

Don't tell anyone

She drove him back and dropped him near the school. Before he got out she told him "don't tell anyone".

From there, the trysts became more abusive.

The teacher first enticed the boy to have intercourse with her at the A&P Park on another lunch break. She invited him into the back seat and initiated the sexual activity.

After that, the abuse was routine.

Sometimes she would pick him up and abuse him on a Friday afternoon while she waited for her own young child to finish sport training.

By now the boy believed he was in a "relationship" with his teacher.

"She would tell him that she loved him and how amazing he was," the summary stated.

"There were a number of times when the [teacher] told the victim that she would kill herself.

"This made the victim feel he needed to stay."

This went on for about a year.

'I am ashamed' - the boys speak

In court, the boys were heard from for the first time. They were not there - their shame and embarrassment too much to be in the courtroom with their abuser. They wrote victim impact statements which were read in part by Crown Solicitor Mark O'Donoghue.

The woman was jailed in the Blenheim District Court on Tuesday. Photo / Supplied
The woman was jailed in the Blenheim District Court on Tuesday. Photo / Supplied

"She made me worry about her as when I tried to stop what was happening she told me she would harm herself … this is not fair, she should not have put that burden on me," said the first victim.

The second victim said in his statement: "I am ashamed."

He said when he tried to stop the abuse the woman locked herself in a car and started cutting herself with scissors.

"I did not want to do it anymore," he said.

The boys do not want their abuser to have name suppression.

Their parents want her identified.

They want the community to know who she is and what she has done.

Judge Tony Zohrab rejected an application for permanent name suppression on Tuesday but an immediate appeal by defence lawyer Jonathan Eaton QC means her identity stays secret for at least 20 more working days.

Who to blame? A small town torn

Since the woman's arrest I've heard and read some people apportion blame to the boys.

"He knew what he was doing."

"He didn't have to go with her."

"He could have just gotten out of the car."

"If he didn't like it why didn't he report her."

Statistics show that only about 10 out of 100 sexual abuse crimes are reported and just three of those get to court.

Only one of those is likely to get a conviction.

Males are far less likely to report abuse than girls or women.

And when the perpetrator of the abuse is a teacher and the victim has been groomed, told not to tell, led to believe they are loved and special, the chance they will report it is vastly slimmer.

The first victim in this case believed he was in love, in a real relationship, and was ill-equipped at his age to deal with the burden of his abuser's mental health issues and threats of self harm.

In court on Tuesday it was made clear these boys were not adults, they did not have the capacity to carry the burden of her advances, her unloading of emotional issues, her abuse.

"Bodies of men, minds of children," Judge Zohrab said.

The abuse of the boys went further than just in person, and physically.

The woman used social media to exploit the first boy and expose him to things inappropriate for his age.

"The defendant would take naked photographs of herself whilst she was in the bath or in bed at her address and send them to the victim on Snapchat," the summary stated.

Snapchat is a popular messaging app that lets users exchange pictures and videos called snaps.

The images and videos disappear after they're viewed but can be screen-grabbed.

She would also Facetime the victim and show him her body and tease him.

She seemed to be relentless in pursuing his attention.

Another boy, more abuse

In late 2018, the abuse took a new turn when another boy became embroiled in the situation.

He was invited to a group chat by the first victim.

According to the summary of facts, the trio used the chat to discuss "sexual matters".

A day after the chat, the woman picked both boys up and drove them to a local park.

There, in the back of her car, all three engaged in sexual acts.

Eaton said nothing "degrading" happened in that car but Judge Zohrab said any sexual act between a boy and a woman "old enough to be his mother" was demeaning at its very core.

The woman then dropped both boys off at the gym.

The second boy visited the teacher in her classroom soon after and police would later hear how they started "play fighting", then kissed.

She told the boy they needed to leave school, to "go somewhere". She led him outside and told him to go and wait for her down the street.

He followed instructions and she picked up him up minutes later, driving him to the A&P Park carpark and abusing him in the backseat.

After the lewd meeting the teacher dropped the boy off at his home.

They continued to meet and the abuse of the second boy continued.

Revealed - a scandal erupts

The first victim eventually tried to end the "relationship".

"She kept messaging him, telling him that she loved him," said the summary.

She also sent an indecent video of herself - and nude photographs.

Police soon became involved.

Photos and videos began to circulate of the woman in various stages of undress, touching herself, engaging in sexual acts with boys.

An investigation began.

A local man said that when the scandal broke, he went out into the street and chatted to a few local teens.

Within minutes he'd been shown the graphic videos.

Another local said she saw them too. The boys were only a couple of years older than her own son and she said she felt sick, angry and disgusted.

She felt sad for the boys.

"This wasn't bloody right," she thought.

Very soon after the teacher was stood down.

Charges followed.

The now jailed woman declined to speak to police about the offending. She also declined to speak to the Herald.

In court we heard much about a letter she had written apologising for her offending. The letter was meant to be for the boys, their families, the school, the community and was read in part in court.

"I make no excuses for what I have done and I am here today to face the victims and the community," she wrote.

"I am ready to do that.

"I would like to express my deep regret to the victims and their families … you were students and I was the teacher.

"I am deeply sorry I have hurt you and brought shame to your families.

"It was only me that was in the wrong and you have nothing to be ashamed of."

Blenheim's dirty secret

There's a lot of chat about the case around Blenheim.

Everyone agrees the situation is horrendous but it depends who you're talking to as to who it's horrendous for.

Some will tell you it's "so sad for the boys", that the offending is "disgusting" and that they cannot believe it has happened. They worry about the damage this woman has done to the boys involved in the prosecution and the others intimated by police in court documents.

Others feel sorry for her and think the boys could and should have done more to stop her.

They seem to ignore the fact she is a convicted sex offender who openly admitted her crimes, that she abused the trust of boys in her care as a teacher, that she is a grown woman who should have known better.

In court, her family were discussed a lot. Her sister was there, but her mother, husband and children were not.

Her husband says mental illness led to the offending. It's the only explanation he can give. Until this, he and others say, she was an exemplary citizen.

She was heavily involved in the community, her school, her kids' school, sport.

When he decided to retrain she was the sole breadwinner for the family.

She was a good and loving mum.

She did well in school, at uni, in her career - she was in a senior position in her early 30s and well respected.

Judge Zohrab said she had "generational links" to the community.

Her family are good people, hard workers and her fall from grace had devastated them.

"Her family are lovely people, they have done so much for Blenheim, for the community," a source said.

"They are a very good family. It's tragic for them, they are victims in this too.

"Everyone knows who she is, everyone knows who her husband is … this is a horrible predicament they have all been put in."

Teacher turned predator

The father of an older student who received inappropriate messages from the teacher earlier called her a "predatory maggot".

"She's the adult, she should have known better," he said.

"It's nasty … it's pretty disgusting."

He had spoken to his son at length about his part in the situation he was involved in with the teacher that did not result in criminal charges.

"Ultimately, she is a person in a position of power and responsibility and she just totally abused that in every way she could," said the father.

He hoped his boy could "just move on" from the drama - but feared the others were in deeper with their teacher will struggle.

"It's pretty yucky," he said.

When teachers go bad

The Herald asked the Teaching Council how many teachers had been struck off this year for sex offending.

They could not provide the figures immediately so an Official Information Act request was filed and a response is due back on February 4 at the earliest.

To give some insight into the situation, from 2015 until July this year, 23 teachers had their registration cancelled after being convicted of sex offending.

The Teaching Council could not say who the victims were - not all were students or young people.

Up to July 2019, five teachers had been convicted and struck off.

The number of allegations under investigation at the time for teachers relating to sexual misconduct was 82.

For the whole of 2018, the figure for the same allegations was 92.

"The safety and wellbeing of students is a top priority for us, as it is for boards of trustees, parents and whānau," said a Ministry of Education spokeswoman.

"We continue to offer our support to the school and its board if needed."

No comment - local police, school tight-lipped on case

Police in Blenheim declined to speak to the Herald about the case.

One detective who interviewed the woman and put the summary of facts together for the court said she was "not available" and deferred questions to Detective Senior Sergeant Ciaran Sloan.

"Marlborough police will not be making any comment on this," Sloan said in an email.

"Media from police if any will come from the police media hub."

The media team declined to comment or confirm if any further boys had come forward or fresh investigations were under way.

The Herald pushed police on this, saying the organisation was disappointed in their response given the nature of the charges.

"I have now had an opportunity to speak with the appropriate staff regarding this matter," said a spokeswoman.

"I can advise that police won't be making any comments following the sentencing for this matter."

The Herald also sought comment from the principal at the school at the time of the offending.

He did not respond.

The Board of Trustees chair promised to issue a press release after sentencing. He said he was not in Blenheim so could not avail himself for an in-person interview but would consider specific questions.

As of yet no questions have been answered.

Judge Zohrab and O'Donoghue spoke for the victims on Tuesday.

"She's gone out of her way to target them in a sexually exploitative way,"
O'Donoghue said.

"There was a significant breach of trust, (she) attempted to manipulate, coerce and control the victims with threats of self-harm.

"This was sexually exploitative conduct by an adult ... she emotionally manipulated both boys."

Judge Zohrab added to that sentiment.

"Effectively there was grooming and premeditation on your part over a long period of time.

"You were a teacher ... this is not a situation of you being a young female teacher ... you were a mature woman, you had a senior leadership role in the community.

"Parents were sending their children to the college to be educated and nurtured ... you have breached that trust.

The judge said the offending was "a gross breach of trust".

He said no one should have been more attuned to the needs of young men growing up than a trained teacher.

"It's difficult enough growing up without these sorts of things occurring," he said, adding he had once been a teenage boy and understood the hardships of maturing.

"Your role was a pastoral one ... you have seriously compromised your obligations."

SEXUAL HARM - DO YOU NEED HELP?

If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.​

If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone contact the Safe to Talk confidential crisis helpline on:

• Text 4334 and they will respond

• Email support@safetotalk.nz

• Visit https://safetotalk.nz/contact-us/ for an online chat

Alternatively contact your local police station - click here for a list.

If you have been abused, remember it's not your fault.