Life coach groomed me: victim

North East woman Sarah (not her real name) says her life was turned upside down after receiving harassing emails and messages from an unqualified counsellor. Picture: KYLIE ESLER

North East woman Sarah (not her real name) says her life was turned upside down after receiving harassing emails and messages from an unqualified counsellor. Picture: KYLIE ESLER

A NORTH East woman’s life was turned upside down after she says a primary school teacher and self-styled life coach began grooming her, leading to months of harassing and threatening emails and messages.

The mother-of-three, Sarah (not her real name) had sought counselling from the man — who still works at a North East school and cannot be named — through his online life-coaching business, which has since shut down.

The pair had been corresponding for almost a year when Sarah said she began receiving a series of abusive and out-of-character messages from him via his Department of Education email account, escalating to angry visits to her home once it was reported.

While the teacher denied his involvement, claiming he’d been hacked and his identity stolen, Victoria Police found evidence to the contrary — the account had not been hacked and it appeared a security program was used to delete all traces of the emails.

The Department of Education has warned the teacher about using his email account appropriately but no further action has been taken.

“My proper qualified counsellor and GP have described his behaviour as manipulative and grooming,” Sarah said.

“I didn’t think anything of it at the time though, because I trusted him.”

Sarah said she first got in touch with the man, who she and her husband knew of socially, for life-coaching early last year when she felt like “everything was just on top of me”.

They conversed casually over Facebook and emails, Sarah finding the concept less daunting than seeing a counsellor or doctor.

He gradually began insisting on speaking with her every day or meeting her to discuss things, and speaking to her family about her progress — things she found, since getting qualified help, that counsellors don’t do.

The correspondence took a nasty turn in October last year, when she said she received threatening emails abusing her and her family on two separate occasions.

Each time he denied they had been sent from him.

None of these emails were able to be recovered in the police investigations though others, seen by The Border Mail, were aggressive in tone.

When further emails were received in December, she and her husband decided to report it to police despite the teacher’s pleading to keep it quiet.

“All we were thinking were if someone is hacking into the emails they could access my personal information,” she said.

She was surprised to learn that the account had, in fact, not been hacked.

“I thought, ‘I don’t even know who this guy is’,” she said.

A Department of Education spokesman would not respond to specific questions about the case, but confirmed an employee had been “recently reminded” of his duty to comply with department policy of using resources, including email accounts.

“Following consultation with Victoria Police, the department now considers the matter closed,” he said.

An intervention order against the teacher remains in place and the police said no further investigation was pending.

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