OAKVILLE- A former Oakville cheerleading coach has been sentenced to six months in prison and three years probation after being convicted of sexually exploiting a 16-year-old girl.A former Oakville cheerleading coach has been sentenced to six months in prison and three years probation after being convicted of sexually exploiting a 16-year-old girl.
Jonathan O’Brien, 27, of Grimsby, Ont., was found guilty of sexual exploitation on May 9, 2016.
He appeared in a Burlington Court today (Sept. 7) for sentencing.
The victim was also present, sitting alone in the courtroom.
O’Brien was arrested in 2014 after the parents of a participant at an Oakville cheerleading training centre contacted Halton police about an inappropriate sexual relationship between their daughter and O’Brien who was a coach there.
The identity of the victim is protected by a publication ban.
During the trial, the victim testified how texting between the two about cheerleading became flirtatious and eventually sexual.
Not long after the victim turned 16, a sexual relationship between the two began, which lasted from January-April 2014.
Both parties testified these sexual encounters took place in O’Brien’s car and in their respective homes while parents were away. O’Brien was 25 years old at the time.
The victim eventually told a friend about what was happening.
This friend told the victim’s parents who involved police.
Shortly after O’Brien’s arrest, the cheerleading organization announced effective immediately, they no longer employed him.
In her May 9th ruling, Justice Lesley Baldwin found O’Brien’s actions violated the trust placed in him as an authority figure and he was, therefore, guilty of sexual exploitation.
“In this case, it is someone who, being employed in a business to ensure the safety and instruction of a young person in the protected 16-18-year-old age group, uses their employment position to enter into a sexual relationship with the young person,” said Baldwin in her decision.
“Individuals who call themselves coaches or tutors cannot do this.”
She also rejected the defense argument that while O’Brien had coached the victim, he was not doing so when the sexual relationship took place and he was therefore not in a position of authority over her.
“(The victim) considered him to be one of the main coaches at (the gym). She did not know him in any other capacity,” said Baldwin in her decision.
“I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that this was a relationship of trust. It was based on a coaching relationship, for which (the victim’s) parents paid the gym, with one of his primary duties being to ensure the physical safety of the participants. There is no switch that turned on and off with respect to the primary relationship between these two people at the gym.”
Crown Attorney Sean Bradley said O’Brien’s actions warranted a sentence of between six to nine months in prison and three years probation.
Defense Attorney Paul O’Marra called for an intermittent sentence of 90 days in prison (to be served during weekends) and three years probation.
In her sentencing decision, Baldwin said she took a number of aggravating factors into consideration such as explicit sexting that began between O’Brien and the victim when she was 15.
She also considered the number of sexual encounters between the two and the devastating impact O’Brien’s actions have had on the victim.
Baldwin said the victim was a particularly vulnerable girl who had been struggling with other issues.
She said O’Brien was either aware of these vulnerabilities or was willfully blind to them.
The damage done to the victim could be seen in an impact statement, which Baldwin cited in reaching her decision.
“I felt scared and alone. You told me I could trust you and I did. I told you everything that had ever happened to me. You knew my life story. We talked for months on end, from the second we woke up to the second we fell asleep. We had a friendship or at least I thought we did. I really fell for you. I thought you cared about me. I thought you were interested in me as a person, but all you were really interested in was my body,” wrote the victim, addressing O’Brien.
“I had a hard time trusting people before I met you, but now I don’t trust anyone, especially men. I’ve learned a lot from how you treated me. I learned that people will use you for their own benefit and they don’t care what happens to you after.”
Baldwin also took several mitigating factors into consideration, including O’Brien’s lack of a previous criminal record and his family support within the community.
She said he appears truly remorseful referencing a statement he read in court in which he expressed his deep regret for the harm he has caused the victim and her family as well as the harm he has brought to his own family.
“The biggest thing I learned throughout this entire legal process, was just how wide-reaching the ripple effect goes for something like this. So while (the victim) absolutely took the brunt of the negative impact caused by this, I’m sorry that any of it reached to any of you,” said O’Brien.
“You didn’t deserve to be dragged into this and I’ll be spending my life time making it up to my family and friends in every way imaginable.”
In coming to her decision, Baldwin said it was important to show that society will not treat these types of offences lightly.
“It must be said that those who commit crimes of sexual exploitation by abusing a position of trust are in virtually all cases a person of otherwise good character. That is how they earned their position of trust in the first place,” said Baldwin.
“It is tragic to see when otherwise good people lose their way so seriously. They know that what they are doing is wrong and that is why it is always done in secret. The damage the offences cause the victims is heartbreaking. This case is no exception.”
Baldwin also directed O’Brien to attend counselling and issued an order that he is not to communicate directly or indirectly with the victim or any member of her family.
Once his jail sentence is over he is also restricted from going within 500 metres of any known place of residence, education, employment, worship or leisure of the victim and her family.
O’Brien is not allowed to be in the company or to communicate with anyone under the age of 18 unless they are in the company of a parent or guardian who is aware of O’Brien’s offence
Another condition requires him to disclose to a probation or parole officer any subsequent dating relationship he may be involved in.