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Annmarie Timmins: ‘Monitor’ editorial take on Torbick sexual assault case is troubling



For the Monitor
Sunday, September 09, 2018

This shouldn’t need saying. But given the Sunday Monitor’s Sept. 2 editorial defending the trial rights of the Exeter school counselor who sexually assaulted her student, it does.

When an adult has sex with a child, as counselor Kristie Torbick did with her 14-year-old student, that is sexual assault or rape. It is not, and cannot be, a “sexual relationship” that an adult and child “enter into,” as you stated on Sunday.

Yes, your point in Sunday’s editorial was to defend the free speech rights of the professors and therapists and school counselors who vouched for Torbick’s character in court. But in doing so, you perpetrated a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of this crime when you drew a line between a “serial predator who preys on children” and a “good person who makes a bad mistake.”

First, the emotional imbalance between a 14-year-old student and a then 37-year-old school counselor precluded the child from legally or factually consenting to any kind of sexual arrangement. In New Hampshire it’s even a crime for doctors to have sex with adult patients because the Legislature understands this imbalance of power.

Second, by excusing the conduct as a mistake by a good person, you fail to see how child predators use their “good person” reputations to manipulate children and keep them quiet about the abuse. What student would feel safe to report abuse when the abuser is praised by other counselors and school administrators and then practically excused for her crimes by the newspaper?

The facts I recite below came from Torbick’s court file and are available to everyone, including the Concord Monitor editorial board.

The 14-year-old victim came to Torbick for “counseling purposes” and “emotional support” while struggling with gender identity questions. The student had expressed thoughts of suicide and Torbick became concerned for the student’s safety.

Rather than reach out to the student’s family or seek an emergency mental health evaluation, Torbick began seeing the student outside the school setting in late 2016 and early 2017.

Torbick pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting the student for her own sexual gratification in three locations over many weeks. Before driving the student home from a holiday party, Torbick kissed the student outside an Exeter restaurant, and the student touched Torbick under her shirt, according to court records.

On another occasion in Epping, Torbick had the student touch her sexually, according to her guilty plea. There were two more incidents of sexual assault at Torbick’s home in Lee. In addition, Torbick exchanged photographs with her victim that were sexual in nature.

Torbick was arrested after the student told a parent about the sexual abuse and then reported it to the police.

And even if the Monitor did not appreciate the serious legal and ethical boundaries Torbick breached, she must have.

As a school counselor, Torbick knew she had an increased duty to protect children. She graduated from the same school counseling program at Plymouth State University I did, and we both spent a lot of our credit hours studying ethics. First and foremost, the American School Counselor Association’s code of ethics requires us to create a safe environment for students and to maintain appropriate boundaries. We are called on to be “aware that any sexual or romantic relationship with students . . . is considered a grievous breach of ethics and is prohibited regardless of a student’s age.”

Additionally, our code of ethics requires us to “monitor personal behaviors and recognize the high standard of care a professional in this critical position of trust must maintain on and off the job.”

The misuse of power for sexual gratification by someone in a position of trust like Torbick is not just a “bad mistake” by an “otherwise good person,” as your editorial implied. It is the hallmark of a sexual abuser whether she is a first-time offender or a “serial” predator.

(Annmarie Timmins was a reporter at the Monitor for 25 years. She has a master’s of education in school counseling and has worked as a school counselor.)