An Australian high school teacher who confessed to having sex with a 16-year-old student was allowed to avoid jail time and walk free Tuesday.
Monique Ooms, 31, was seen crying at the Court of Appeals in Melbourne after a panel upheld a ruling to only give her 300 hours of community services after she pled guilty to four counts of sexually penetrating a minor under her care or supervision, 9 News reports.
Victoria’s Office of Public Prosecutions had appealed the original ruling in March, claiming Ooms deserved serious jail time for abusing her position as a teacher at the Sale Secondary College.
Justices Richard Niall, Maree Kennedy and Cameron Macaulay, however, rejected the appeal and said that Oom’s mental illness “would potentially render a term of imprisonment ‘catastrophic.’”
The defense had testified in court that Ooms was depressed about her alleged infertility when she had sex with the boy, despite showing up pregnant at her sentencing in July.
She was also said to be suffering from mental health issues following alleged harassment when her relationship with the student was revealed.
Ooms, who joined the high school last year, began to message the 16-year-old boy after seeing that he was going through personal issues, prosecutors said.
The teacher then began sending pictures of herself in her underwear to the troubled boy before the two eventually had sex for the first time in July 2022.
The pair had sex several more times at her home and in her car before school officials were tipped off by an anonymous letter.
Judge John Smallwood, who made the original ruling, said he found the teacher and student’s relationship “utterly inappropriate,” but failed to see Ooms’ actions as predatory.
The appeals panel ultimately agreed with Smallwood’s ruling, describing the judgment as a “difficult sentencing exercise.”
“The offending was serious and, as the judge correctly noted, ordinarily a custodial sentence of some duration would be expected in order to fulfil the sentencing purposes,” the justices wrote in their ruling.
“But the judge considered this to be a very unusual situation… It is a conspicuous example of a judge concerned to do ‘individualised justice’ and to exercise the judicial sentencing discretion to ‘do justice’ in the particular case.”
Ooms did not comment on the ruling as she walked out of the courthouse. Her representative could not be immediately reached for comment.