Former Langley teacher pleads guilty to sexual assault

A former Langley teacher left her victim with years of guilt, shame, and suicidal thoughts after sexually assaulting him, a judge heard Friday.

Deborah Ralph pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault in New Westminster Supreme Court on Friday.

Her victim, who was 11 years old when the abuse began in 1998, gave an emotional victim impact statement.

“For the past 15 years, I have carried around a great deal of shame and guilt for what happened to me as a child,” said the victim, who cannot be identified.

He has found it hard to trust anyone, and has struggled with alcohol and drug abuse from the time he was as young as 12.

“She preyed on me,” the victim said of Ralph. She knew his family was unstable and that he had nowhere to turn, and she made him feel complicit in the abuse, he said.

Crown prosecutor David Simpkin read out an agreed statement of facts after Ralph entered her guilty plea before Justice Selwyn Romilly.

The victim was in Ralph’s Grade 5 class in Langley at a time when his family was unstable. His parents split up, and at the end of the school year, his mother was planning to move to the North Shore with her three children, Simpkin said.

Ralph came to the victim’s family home on the last day of school to wish them well. She got the victim a job cleaning a pool for one of her family members, and over the summer drove him too and from work.

She also let him use a backhoe at her husband’s workplace, and began buying him gifts, including a pair of Oakley sunglasses.

In the fall of 1998, she continued visiting the victim, taking him to laser tag and other fun activities. The victim’s mother worried about the visits and asked that they stop, but Ralph befriended her, too, and asked her to reconsider.

The visits became more frequent, and Ralph was considered a kind of aunt by the victim, Simpkin said.

She continued to take him on trips, including whale watching and to the Vancouver Aquarium, and helped get him transferred to a new school when he had trouble with bullying.

Over the Christmas break in 1998, the victim went for an overnight stay at Ralph’s home, where the relationship became sexual.

Simpkin said Ralph kissed the victim and performed oral sex on him.

The sexual contact continued from 1998 to 2000, and included kissing, cuddling and four or five acts of sexual touching, said Simpkin.

Ralph told the victim that he was not a normal boy, that he was special and gifted.

He tried to end the sexual relationship at least once, Simpkin said.

In the fall of 2000, the family moved and the victim started high school in North Vancouver. He cut off contact with Ralph and began refusing to speak to her on the phone.

Without any knowledge of what had happened, his family thought he was just being rude, said Simpkin.

It wasn’t until 2005 that the victim told his mother about the abuse.

While he went to family services and began therapy, he didn’t feel emotionally strong enough to make a report to the police.

The victim made an impact statement to the court, at times near tears as he spoke of the rocky path his life had taken.

After several years of therapy following his first revealing the abuse to his family, he was still struggling with shame and bouts of alcohol and drug abuse. He quit therapy and had trouble with relationships.

“I drank myself into blackouts often, seeking to forget the past,” he said.

Depression has been a major part of his life.

“I even romanticized thoughts of suicide,” he said.

He hit rock bottom, with a drunken driving car crash, before he realized it was not his shame, it was Ralph’s, he said.

His family members testified that they have also been affected by the abuse.

The victim’s mother said she was glad of the guilty plea.

“Today is a good day for my family,” she said. “Today we can begin to heal.”

She condemned Ralph for what she did.

“This woman betrayed our trust in the worst possible way,” the victim’s mother said.

Her own guilt has been over not being able to protect her son.

“I’ve carried the burden of guilt of allowing a predator into my home,” she said.

The victim’s brothers said Ralph’s actions have damaged their family, and their ability to trust people.

“How could I have been so blind to the obvious?” one said.

Romilly was to hear legal arguments later in the day.

A sentencing hearing had not been scheduled when the Langley Advance went to press.

Before the RCMP announced the charges in 2011, Ralph had been a longtime teacher in the Langley School District. She was suspended and removed from the classroom as soon as the charges were announced.

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