She was groomed by her Grade 10 music teacher and sexually assaulted at 16. She wants you to know her story

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When Danielle Han was 15 years old and in Grade 10, her music teacher at St. Theresa of Lisieux Catholic High School in Richmond Hill was a man 10 years older than her.

While she was in Grade 11, that teacher, Christopher Ng contacted her outside of school hours on Facebook. The messages made her feel special, and Ng used his position of trust and authority to groom her, manipulate her and begin an illegal sexual relationship with her that would last seven years, Ontario court Judge Amit Ghosh told a Newmarket courtroom last week after Ng pleaded guilty to sexual assault.

Ng “co-opted her into his criminal conduct by persuading her to delete digital communications between them,” Ghosh said. “He normalized his criminal conduct and gaslit Ms. Han as a child victim into questioning her reality in order to supplant it with his own warped perception of reality.”

Han, now 27, took the unusual step of lifting the publication ban on her identity at Ng’s sentencing hearing so that she could offer a rare insight into how this kind of abuse happens and that it should not be romanticized or considered normal. She also hopes her speaking out will make others in similar situations feel less alone — something she struggled with as she came to terms with the understanding she had not been in a love story, she had been sexually assaulted.

“I was not taught what consent was at school,” she explained in an interview with the Star.

Rather than being taught about boundaries and healthy relationships, she was taught that a girl’s virginity had to be preserved like a perfect cookie, and shown a demonstration about tape losing its stickiness after repeated use. Unsurprisingly, she internalized feelings of shame and did not know where she could go for help. She didn’t know she could not consent to sex at 16 due to Ng being in a position of authority over her.

“How many teenagers have an understanding of what grooming is? We should be educated about this so if someone does try to hurt us we can feel safe to report it,” she said in her victim impact statement. “Instead, we are taught to protect ourselves in ridiculous ways. Even if you learn the list of putting the keys between your fingers, don’t walk when it’s dark, watch your back at the train station, and know how to speed dial 911. While very real, I will tell you that those don’t make up most cases. Many victims, like me, knew the perpetrator.”

That a group of high school students across the country staged a walk-out over the need to end sexual violence in schools and for better education on the same week as the plea shows how much work still needs to be done, Han said.

Last week, Ng was sentenced to an 18-month conditional sentence — with the first six months served under house arrest — and three years of probation at the recommendation of both the Crown and defence. Ng is under investigation by the Ontario College of Teachers and will automatically lose his license if found guilty of sexual touching of a student by the disciplinary committee.

In an interview and in her victim impact statement, Han described the process of grooming as effectively altering her own reality and sense of self at an especially formative time.

She described how Ng would belittle her and isolate her from friends and family, claiming he was jealous and needed her to quickly respond to his messages. He made her believe that he was the real victim, that he was doing her a favour, that she had to please him and make him happy, she said.

“I had no confidence. I had no space to think for myself. You made life seem so small that I didn’t deserve anything more,” she said. “You would test my compliance each time to see if you could indirectly control my actions. You criticized me endlessly. ‘Why do you talk like that? Why do you walk like that? Why do you sing like that?’”

He also took advantage of her upbringing, she said.

“As a child born in an East Asian immigrant family, you knew that I was taught to respect my elders. As your student, you knew I would feel compelled to do what you wanted, and you manipulated that,” Han said.

In her victim impact statement, Han asked the judge to remember what it was like to be 15.

“I needed my parents to sign off on permission slips to go on field trips, and my friends and I still rode the big yellow school bus,” she said. She was worrying about math quizzes and whether she had enough change for candy.

“You are not responsible for any adult’s life, especially this man who is your teacher,” she said, speaking to her younger self. “You, my friend, are a kid, no matter what you are told, no matter how some people try to flatter you and say you are mature for your age …You are not at fault that this is happening. You were never taught something like this could happen.”

“Today, you are the adult that you needed in your life.”

She still wonders how many people, from other teachers to people in Ng’s life, knew about their relationship and where and how it began and chose to say nothing.

“It takes a village to protect a predator,” she said.

Han was 25 when she reported Ng to the police in February 2020 — the same age as he was when he first met her. She did so because she was worried about him continuing to be a teacher and being in contact with students.

But she also took time to consider what the court process would be like, something she knew about through helping develop resources through the Consent Comes First office at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly known as Ryerson University) where Han is soon to graduate from the nutrition and food program.

She was disappointed that she only told about the plea by the Crown after it was entered, and not when she could have provided her views. In addition to the charge of sexual assault, Ng was initially charged with sexual interference based on her allegation that the sexual contact began before she turned 16. She was disappointed he was not convicted on both counts.

In court, the Crown prosecutor Patrizia Colavecchia noted that Ng’s plea was significant because the case almost certainly would have been stayed due to delay — something she said has happened in many other sexual assault cases amid case backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ng said nothing in court prior to being sentenced.

Han said she finds comfort that Ng will likely not be a high school teacher anymore — and that he never met the high school student she has been mentoring.

“That makes the whole process worth it,” she said.

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https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2022/05/09/she-was-groomed-by-her-grade-10-music-teacher-and-sexually-assaulted-at-16-she-wants-you-to-know-her-story.html

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