A respected teacher and coach at Moraga's Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School was sentenced to eight years in state prison Wednesday after pleading guilty to charges she carefully groomed and abused a student under her tutelage.
Julie Gay Correa, 43, pleaded no contest in October to one felony count of sexual penetration under duress and three felony counts of sexually abusing a child aged 14 or 15 years old. She was remanded to state prison Wednesday in an unusual sentencing in Contra Costa County Superior Court.
Unusual in that her victim, now grown and married and a teacher herself, demanded that the trauma she had experienced at Correa's hands be brought to light.
"Saying something and asking for help is what I knew I had to do in order to heal," said Kirsten Cunnane, 29, of Walnut Creek, sitting in a courtroom packed with supporters for both women.
Cunnane said she first reported the abuse in 2010, about a decade after it ended and after she started having frequent flashbacks of the molestation. She suffered from severe anxiety and depression, she said, and began to examine her relationship with Correa.
In an emotional statement Wednesday, Cunnane told the court how she first met Correa — a popular teacher and girls sports coach — as an 11-year-old on her first day of sixth grade.
"I would come to respect her... more than any other adult," she said. "I wanted to be just like her."
During her time at Joaquin Moraga, Cunnane said Correa patiently manipulated her admiration for the teacher twice her age. The two spent more and more time together outside class, during lunchtime chats or Slurpee runs.
"She acted more like a peer than a teacher," Cunnane recalled.
When she graduated middle school, Correa gave her a card and a watch, she said.
At 14, the teacher she trusted kissed her for the first time, a kiss that led to a four-year pattern of abuse that divided Cunnane's identity as both "an accomplished Moraga teen and a terrified sex slave," and has since manifested in depression and the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Cunnane said Correa repeatedly raped her — at her Walnut Creek apartment, in her car and at Cunnane's home — where in-court statements revealed that she would sometimes hide in the teen's bedroom closet or under her bed, waiting for her parents to fall asleep.
Cunnane said the confusion she felt over the relationship was compounded when Correa threatened to harm herself if she ever left her, telling the teen that she would lose her friends if they thought she was a lesbian.
Cunnane told the court that shortly before turning 18 she began avoiding Correa's calls and threatened to report the abuse if the teacher continued to pursue her.
Though she said Correa did contact her after she enrolled at UCLA, the two didn't speak again until 2010, when detectives said Cunnane would need to call her former teacher to build more evidence for a sexual assault case, she said.
During those calls and later, in court, Correa — who had a family of her own and who was living in Utah — admitted to the abuse, referring to her "past connection" with Cunnane.
In court Wednesday, Judge Clare Maier said Correa had breached her promise as a teacher. "It is the teacher's responsibility," Maier said, "to protect and to shield students at all costs from any inappropriate connection." Maier ordered Correa to pay nearly $8,000 in restitution to Cunnane. She must also register as a sex offender and will be placed on parole for up to ten years following her release from prison.
Earlier in the sentencing proceeding, Correa made a single, tearful statement to the court.
"It was never, never my intention to hurt you — I cared deeply for you," Correa said, addressing Cunnane. "At some point, I began to view you as a peer instead of the teenage girl you were... this was an error in my thinking."
Bay City News Service reports contributed to this story