Nicole Woods claimed to have a “special bond” with a troubled teenage boy at Melton’s Staughton College in Melbourne’s west in 2016, and was helping to keep him in school.
- Woods has pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a teenage boy at least 15 times four years ago
- In a victim impact statement, the boy said he had been left “numb” and “broken” and was seeking pain relief by abusing drugs and alcohol
- Woods’s lawyer Jonathan Barrera told the court his client thought the boy had consented to sexual relations
But the County Court in Melbourne has heard that over a six-month period the former teacher’s aide performed sexual acts on the then-15-year-old boy at the back of the classroom.
Woods, 55, has pleaded guilty to two charges of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16.
Woods appeared in court via videolink today, wearing a blue tracksuit and a set of white rosary beads around her neck.
She played with the cross hanging from the beads as the hearing began.
County Court Judge George Georgiou is hearing submissions on what kind of sentence Woods will face.
The boy, now 19, says he has been left “numb” and “broken” and is seeking pain relief by abusing drugs and alcohol.
“I’m not innocent anymore,” the teenager said via a victim impact statement read in the County Court during a plea hearing in March.
On at least 15 occasions between April and September 2016, Woods committed sexual acts on the boy — including oral sex and intercourse — the court was told at that hearing.
Woods had sent the boy photos of herself topless, which he then shared with his friends.
The court heard Woods had worked at the school for three years, helping in the classroom and in the canteen.
Prosecutor Craig McConaghy told the court her actions were a “gross betrayal of trust”.
The court heard the teen had wanted to end his own life, and had been cutting himself with a knife.
He still has thoughts of self-harm, the court was told.
When she was arrested and interviewed by police in December 2017, Woods denied there was any sexual contact with the boy.
She said she had been helping him with his behavioural issues and that he would climb in cupboards unless she was present in class.
“From the offender’s perspective there was a close bond … a special bond between her and the victim,” Mr McConaghy said.
But he said there was a “degree of grooming” by Woods when she provided the boy and his friends with free food and drinks on days when she was working in the school canteen.
She also gave the boy $80 to repair a mobile phone and bought other items, the court heard.
Victim’s mother feels she ‘failed’ to protect her son
The boy’s mother has spoken of the “very dark episode” for her son ever since he was first abused almost four years ago.
“I feel I failed to protect my son,” she said.
The mother told Judge Georgiou she was “devastated, sick, fearful” as a result of Woods’s crimes.
“I hope to see my (son) again one day … pain-free and that he will start 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 had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and was unable to work because she needed to care for her son who did not like to leave the house.
The court heard the offences took place in Woods’s office pod at the back of the classroom, during lunchtime or after school.
One offence took place during a school athletics day, the court heard.
“I do not feel safe most of the time,” the teen said in his statement.
Woods’s lawyer, Jonathan Barrera, said his client understood the “significant impact” she had had on the teen.
“At the time of the offending, it was quite a dark time in her life,” he said.
Woods’s offending a ‘snap of the brain’, court hears
She had left an abusive relationship and had no permanent place to live and was “couch surfing” at the time, the court was told.
She was using drugs and alcohol to cope, the court was told, becoming addicted to methamphetamine.
Today Mr Barrera told the court his client thought the boy had consented to sexual relations.
The court heard Woods told a psychiatrist that she had a “snap of the brain”.
But her lawyer admitted her offending “was not spontaneous, it was not isolated”.
The court was told Woods had a difficult childhood, having been sent to school in Indonesia and Singapore at the age of eight and nine.
The court heard she had been sexually abused by a domestic helper in Indonesia.
She had also been in an abusive marriage for 27 years, Mr Barrera said.
Woods faces a maximum term of 15 years for each offence.
Today Judge Georgiou questioned Woods’s credibility and remorse, because she did not plead guilty until just before the trial.
“He [the victim] lived under the belief that your client is denying the allegations right up until the day he was to give evidence,” Judge Georgiou said to Mr Barrera.
Judge Georgiou will sentence Woods on July 28.
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