42-year old Adelaide teacher, Sonia Mackay, has walked free after successfully appealing her sentence of imprisonment for sexually abusing a student.
Last year, Ms Mackay pleaded guilty to persistent sexual abuse of a child, which is an offence under section 50 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) (‘the Act’). The maximum penalty for the offence is life imprisonment.
The court heard that Ms Mackay gave her student drugs and alcohol, allowed him to drive her car without a licence, encouraged him to truant, sent him explicit text messages and encouraged him to have sexual intercourse with her at several places including a public carpark and the home she shared with her husband and two children.
The court further heard emotional victim impact statements from the 17 year old student and his parents. The victim told the court he was left embarrassed and ashamed by falling prey to his English teacher, and that he had lost two years of his life. He spoke of how his teacher had branded his flesh with a cigarette, and that the relationship caused him to withdraw from family and friends, and from his studies.
Ms Mackay was sentenced to four years behind bars. But now, the state’s Court of Criminal Appeal has overturned the sentence and handed her a good behaviour bond.
Persistent sexual abuse of a child in NSW
To establish the offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that a person maintained an ‘unlawful sexual relationship’ with a child.
An unlawful sexual relationship is one whereby an adult engages in two or more unlawful sexual acts with or towards a child over any period of time.
An unlawful sexual act covers a broad range of conduct, including a sexual act, sexual touching, sexual intercourse, producing child abuse material, forced self-manipulation and child prostitution.
The prosecution is not required to prove the particulars – or details – of the specific unlawful sexual acts, and members of a jury do not need to agree on the acts that constituted the offence.
It is immaterial that any of the sexual acts occurred outside New South Wales, provided that at least one of them occurred within our state.
A ‘child’ is defined as a person under the age of 16 years for the purposes of the New South Wales legislation, although in our state there are separate prohibitions against sexual intercourse and sexual touching of a person between the ages of 16 and 18 who are under ‘special care’ – which extends to relationships between teachers and students.