A former Langley elementary school teacher who had a sexual relationship with one of her ex-students has been given a conditional sentence of two years less a day.
Deborah Ralph, 59, pleaded guilty last month to one count of sexual interference. She was sentenced Thursday in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster.
Ralph admitted to having sexual contact with the boy, who had been in her class, on four or five occasions between 1998 and 2000, when he was between 11 and 13 years old. He was not her student at the time of the incidents.
The sexual contact included kissing, touching, cuddling and oral sex. There was no sexual intercourse and no violence or threats of violence.
According to a psychiatric report, Ralphâ€™s conduct fell into the category of â€œteacher/loverâ€ – she saw herself as part of a consenting romantic relationship with an adolescent and did not realize her behaviour was abusive.
At the time of the offences, Ralph was feeling restless and unfulfilled by her marriage of 20 years and questioned her lifeâ€™s direction. She channelled her energy into work and volunteering, and the psychiatrist who wrote the report said her relationship with the victim appears to have grown out of a desire to help him. In the process, she believed she had fallen in love.
The psychiatrist said Ralphâ€™s behaviour was not consistent with that of a predatory pedophile.
â€œThese strong emotions clearly blinded her to the inappropriate nature of the relationship and the potential harm it could do to the boy,â€ the report said.
A victim-impact statement from the boy outlined the psychological impact of Ralphâ€™s actions, including depression and anger: â€œI still constantly struggle with feelings of sadness, even though I have dealt with much of the guilt and shame; I realize that I can never get my time back and it upset me to think of what could have been.â€
Justice Selwyn Romilly said he was satisfied Ralph does not pose a danger to the community – she has no previous criminal record, there is no evidence she has engaged in similar activity in the 14 years since the offence, her risk of reoffending is negligible and she has expressed genuine remorse. She received a number of support letters from former students and colleagues.
â€œShe is at a very different point in her life after a great deal of introspection and emotional growth,â€ Romilly said.
During the first 18 months of her sentence, Ralph will be under house arrest. For the rest of her sentence, she will be subject to a 4 p.m. to 9 a.m. curfew. She must perform 200 hours of community service.
Ralph is also not allowed to be in the company of any child under the age of 14, excluding her grandchildren, except with the consent of the parent or guardian.
According to the B.C. Teacher Regulation Branch, Ralphâ€™s teaching certificate has been suspended since January 2012 as a result of disciplinary proceedings. She is not authorized to teach in B.C.
– Jennifer Saltman is a reporter with the Vancouver Province