A mother has told a Bendigo court of the anguish her daughter has suffered since receiving indecent messages from a former teacher via social media.
Former teacher and soccer coach Ryan Edwards, 39, pleaded guilty in the Bendigo Magistrates' Court on Tuesday to using a carriage service to transmit indecent communication to children aged under 16, over a period of about 15 months.
The messages centred around a "joke" between Edwards and two victims that referred to a penis.
The messages between Edwards and the first victim began after she ceased being a student at the school, when she followed the teacher on the social media platform Instagram.
The private messages from Edwards included one which said, "You should come to Bali with me instead" in reference to the victim's holiday plans.
The second victim later also followed Edwards on Instagram and private messaging ensued.
Later, the three entered a group chat.
In one conversation, Edwards said, "Yo. Where's my invite for tonight?! U two are having too much fun".
In a further conversation, he said, "Lol r u sure ur not hard?" and later, "Lol do u have a willy? Hahaha".
He also sent the victims a message including the eggplant emoji, and a message in which he said, "I'll give you the biggest wedgie ever".
Several days after the last message, the mother of one of the victims saw it on her daughter's iPod and told Edwards she did not like him messaging her daughter.
The mother then found other messages and the matter was reported to police.
Police arrested Edwards at the school and searched his home, from where they seized a number of electronic devices.
No further information or messages were found.
When asked in a police interview whether any of the messages were inappropriate, Edwards said, "Certainly not that I recall".
He said a nickname used between he and the girls was not in reference to a penis.
But he conceded one message was "very inappropriate" and while he could not recall the conversation, he assumed he was referring to a penis.
But he told police he did not use the eggplant emoji in reference to a penis.
Edwards said he had no intention of making sexual comments and he was only trying to be funny.
However, he he did admit that in one reference he made to the girls he meant "probably vagina or penis".
Edwards said despite having a great family and job, he was lonely and "it's nice to know sometimes that someone's on the other end of the message".
The mother of one of the girls read a victim impact statement to the court, in which she said she blamed herself for not detecting the contact with Edwards sooner.
Her daughter had since suffered severe anxiety and depression.
Her daughter was anxious about her younger sibling being in contact with Edwards, she said, and felt people judged her.
It had also affected her daughter's school work and dampened her passion for sport.
The mother said all children deserved a safe education environment, and Edwards' actions had destroyed both her and her daughter's trust in others.
Defence counsel Hayley Bate said her client never foresaw the impact of his offending at the time and expressed genuine remorse, as a forensic psychologist noted in a report tendered with the court.
Ms Bate said Edwards immediately apologised and blocked the students on Instagram after he was approached by the mother, and entered a plea of guilty to the charge at the earliest opportunity.
Edwards' offending had also had a profound impact on himself and his family, she said, including financially after he was stood down from his job.
She said Edwards' offending did not involve any grooming or intent to procure the students, and he did not attempt to be discreet nor tell the victims to hide their interactions with him.
Ms Bate submitted Edwards was in a position of trust, but it was important to note the victims were not students at the school at the time of the offending.
She said Edwards was of "previously impeccable character" and this matter constituted his first involvement in the courts.
A forensic psychologist found he had a high level of remorse, a high degree of insight into his offending, and a low risk of reoffending.
A jail term would worsen his depression, the court heard.
Ms Bate asked the magistrate to consider a community corrections order.
But police prosecutor Sergeant Mark Snell said it was difficult to gauge Edwards' remorse.
Sergeant Snell submitted the impact on the victims and their parents should weigh more heavily in sentencing than the impact on Edwards.
In his experience, he said, teachers had what they could or could not do "drummed into them".
"He was in a position of trust, and he's breached that trust," Sergeant Snell said.
Magistrate Andrew McKenna convicted Edwards and sentenced him to an 18-month community corrections order, with 100 hours of community work.
He was ordered to undergo mental health treatment and offender programs as directed, with treatment hours to count towards his community work.
Edwards will also be on the sex offenders register for eight years.
Mr McKenna stressed the gravity of the offence, referring to its maximum sentence of seven years' imprisonment.
He said the only redeeming factor was that the offending contained no overt, aggressive or especially suggestive propositions.
"That it didn't go any further is the only thing that saves you from imprisonment," Mr McKenna said.
The magistrate told Edwards he accepted he was remorseful, but he had shamed himself and his family
He said it was beyond him that Edwards engaged in such behaviour, especially in light of publicity around offending committed by teachers and others in positions of power.
"I can't comprehend how a teacher of some years standing could possibly think any such interactions were... appropriate given the age of the girls involved," Mr McKenna said.
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