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Friday, September 25, 2020

Former Melton assistant Nicole Woods will be sentenced for sexually abusing a 15-year-old student

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Nicole Woods said she had a “special bond” with a troubled teenager at Melton’s Staughton College in west Melbourne in 2016, and helped keep him in school.

But the Melbourne County Court learned that over a period of six months, the teacher’s former assistant committed sexual acts on the 15-year-old boy at the back of the class.

Woods, 55, pleaded guilty to two charges of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16.

Woods appeared in court by videoconference today, wearing a blue tracksuit and a set of white rosaries around his neck.

She played with the cross hanging from the beads at the start of the hearing.

County court judge George Georgiou heard comments on the type of sentence Woods faced.

A sign outside a school indicates Staughton College on a sunny blue sky day.
Woods was arrested and interrogated by police in December 2017, but denied any sexual contact with the boy.(Staughton College)

The boy, now 19, says he has remained “numb” and “broken” and seeks to relieve pain by abusing drugs and alcohol.

“I am no longer innocent,” the boy said in a victim statement read to the county court during a plea hearing in March.

Woods had committed sexual acts on the boy on at least 15 occasions between April and September 2016 – including oral sex – the court was informed at this hearing.

Woods had sent the boy pictures of her topless, which he then shared with his friends.

The court learned that Woods had worked at the school for three years, helping in the classroom and the canteen.

Prosecutor Craig McConaghy told the court that his actions were a “gross betrayal of trust”.

The court heard that the youngster wanted to end his own life and cut himself with a knife.

He still has thoughts of self-harm, the court said.

When arrested and questioned by police in December 2017, Woods denied any sexual contact with the boy.

She said that she had helped him with his behavior problems and that he would climb into the cupboards unless she was in class.

“From the offender’s point of view, there was a close connection a special bond between her and the victim, “said Mr. McConaghy.

But he said there was a “degree of grooming” at Woods when it provided the boy and his friends with free food and drink on the days she worked in the school canteen.

She also gave the boy $ 80 to fix a cell phone and bought other items, the court learned.

Victim’s mother feels she has failed to protect her son

The boy’s mother has spoken of the “very dark episode” for her son since he was first abused almost four years ago.

“I feel like I did not protect my son,” she said.

The mother told judge Georgiou that she was “devastated, sick, frightened” as a result of Woods’ crimes.

“I hope to see my (son) one day painless and that he will begin to see that he can have a life where he doesn’t feel like he’s in a black hole, “she said.

The mother said she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and was unable to work because she had to take care of her son who did not like to leave home.

A school building under the sun on a blue sky day.
Prosecutor Craig McConaghy said Woods treated the boy by giving him free food in the canteen.(Staughton College)

The court heard that the offenses took place in Woods’ office basket at the back of the classroom, during lunch or after school.

An offense occurred during a school athletics day, the court learned.

“I don’t feel safe most of the time,” said the teen in his statement.

Woods’ lawyer Jonathan Barrera said his client understood the “significant impact” she had had on the teenager.

“At the time of the offense, it was quite a dark time in his life,” he said.

Woods “brainwashed”, court says

She had left an abusive relationship and had no place to live permanently and “surfed the couch” at the time, the court said.

She used drugs and alcohol to cope, said the court, becoming addicted to methamphetamine.

Barrera said in court today that his client thought the boy had consented to sex.

The court heard Woods tell a psychiatrist that she had been “brainwashed”.

But his lawyer admitted that his fault “was not spontaneous, it was not isolated”.

The court learned that Woods had a difficult childhood, having been sent to school in Indonesia and Singapore at the age of eight and nine.

The court learned that she had been sexually abused by domestic help in Indonesia.

She has also been married for 27 years, said Barrera.

Woods faces a maximum sentence of 15 years for each offense.

Justice Georgiou today questioned Woods’ credibility and remorse because she did not plead guilty until just before trial.

“He [the victim] lived with the belief that your client denies the allegations until the day he had to testify, “Judge Georgiou told Barrera.

Justice Georgiou will sentence Woods on July 28.

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