Warning: This story contains details of grooming and sexual exploitation of an underaged person and may be disturbing to some readers.
A Richmond man is facing jail after sexually exploiting a teenage student at the school he worked at as an educator.
Steven Clarke, 31, had met the victim in 2021 while working at a secondary school in North Vancouver.
When school reconvened in 2022 after the winter break, he told the victim he had romantic feelings for her and the two exchanged numbers and later on, intimate text messages.
During January and February 2022, Clarke asked the victim to send him explicit photos of her.
“Some of these photos constitute child pornography,” Crown prosecutor Michelle Merry told Richmond Provincial Court on Wednesday at Clarke’s sentencing hearing.
In return, Clarke sent the victim, who can't be named for legal reasons, explicit photos and a video.
During the same time, Clarke and the victim would meet in secluded spots at the school to kiss and engage in sexual touching.
Clarke would also drive the victim to his Richmond apartment to have sex.
However, the relationship between the pair came to light around Family Day last year after the girl’s mother discovered her daughter’s nude photos on certain devices.
At that point, Clarke and the student ceased contact.
The court heard how Clarke was only in jail for one night before being released. He later pleaded guilty to one count of sexual exploitation on Jan. 26, 2023.
Excerpts of text messages between the two were read out in court.
Accused had ‘high degree of responsibility and moral blameworthiness’: Crown
According to the joint submission between prosecution and defence, an appropriate sentence for Clarke would be 21 months in jail followed by three years’ probation.
Conditions would include no contact with the victim, no contact or being in the presence of any female person appearing to be under 18, and no volunteer or employment positions involving being in a position of trust or authority to a female person under 18 (with exceptions).
Under the Criminal Code, the minimum sentence for sexual exploitation is 90 days and the maximum is two years.
Prosecutor Michelle Merry told the court that aggravating factors for Clarke’s sentence include the fact that he committed two other offences by possessing child pornography and sending sexually explicit materials to the victim.
As well, he had a “high degree of responsibility and moral blameworthiness” as someone who worked with teenagers, and he was clearly “manipulative” when trying to have sex with the victim as seen from their text exchange.
“That is the kind of behaviour that is particularly damaging and confusing to victims of this age,” said Merry, adding that the victim was initially going to protect Clarke.
“The Crown says that is something we frequently see in this type of case. It’s confusing, and ultimately… potentially very damaging for the victim.”
The fact that Clarke had sex with the victim and the impact on the victim are also cited as aggravating factors.
Mitigating factors, on the other hand, include Clarke’s early guilty plea and his remorse, despite the fact that he had made victim-blaming statements to a doctor for a psychological report.
Tony Tso, Clarke’s lawyer, told the court Clarke grew up in a religious family and had moved from Jamaica to the U.S.
He is a U.S. citizen and did not have a criminal record. Letters from Clarke’s friends and family were submitted to the court in support of his character.
He faces deportation because of this incident.
Victim forgave the accused
The victim, who attended the hearing in person with her family, told the court she “hadn’t been the same” since the incident.
“I’ve realized I’m not the same person the accused had met, but now a girl that the accused had created,” she said.
“My guard has been up ever since, and my ability to let new people into my life has been so hard. My trust has been broken for someone that I trusted in the past.”
The victim recalled Clarke’s fear of going to jail for the relationship and said she had tried to protect him at first.
“At the time, I didn’t understand that I wasn’t old enough, healthy enough or mature enough to appreciate that I’d been used, exploited and raped,” she said.
Her dad, on the other hand, disagreed.
“(Clarke), at this point, has not demonstrated that he deserves a second chance,” he said in his victim impact statement.
He described the “shocking and disgusting discovery” of his daughter’s nude photos on her cellphone last Family Day, which was followed by an “extremely challenging discussion” where the victim shared “intimate and painful” details of what happened.
He told the court the family is traumatized by the experience, adding that the grooming process had taken place in the presumably safe confines of a high school amongst staff the family trusted.
“We had no idea that our daughter would be placed in the hands of a predator.”
After hearing submissions from both sides, Richmond provincial court judge Derek Mah decided to adjourn the sentencing to review the arguments.
Mah also addressed the victim and her family before adjourning the sentencing hearing.
“I know this has been troubling for you. I can see the impact it’s had on all of you,” he said.
“And I think if we can leave this courtroom today and just really accept what (the victim) said in her victim impact statement, which is that (she wishes) the best for everyone. As we move forward, I think that’s something that we all as adults in this room can learn from … to have some forgiveness.”
A new date for judge Mah to give his decision will be scheduled next Monday.