Jehovah's Witness elder gets three years for sexual exploitation

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, Canada/November 9, 2007

A former Jehovah's Witness church elder has been sentenced to three years in prison for the sexual exploitation of a troubled teenage girl with whom he carried on a four-year relationship.

"Our courts must send a clear message to every person in authority over a child that sexual contact with them will not be tolerated and will result in lengthy periods of imprisonment," Justice Marty Popescul said Friday at the Saskatoon Court of Queen's Bench.

Wendell Willick, 47, was counselling the girl at the behest of her parents - who were friends of Willick through their church - during the period of the abuse, which began in 1996, when the girl was 14.

The court heard during a sentencing hearing that Willick first had sexual intercourse with the girl when she was visiting his home on a weekend pass from a hospital psychiatric ward.

The victim, whose name is protected by a publication ban, was in the midst of a troubled adolescence. She had once run away from home and had repeatedly cut herself.

Willick pleaded guilty in September to a charge of sexual exploitation.

The judge did not accept defence lawyer Daryl Labach's submission that the girl's apparent consent lessened the severity of the crime.

"As a society we have absolutely rejected the notion that children can properly consent to participation in sexual activity with adults or those who are in a position of trust or authority to them," Popescul said.

"An offence such as this does not require the use of threats or violence because of the power imbalance involved."

Willick's wife and adult children sat silently in the front row or the courtroom. The victim, who lives out of province, was not present. Her mother and stepfather sat in a back row. They declined to comment on the sentence.

The girl's trust and spiritual beliefs were shattered, she said in a victim impact statement that was read during the sentencing hearing.

"It made me feel like a person of no value with no voice. . . . Parts of myself are missing," she wrote.

Willick voluntarily gave up his role as an elder in the church several years ago, in part because of the allegations, and left the church entirely in 2004, the defence lawyer has said. He also has said Willick was not acting in his capacity as a church elder when the offences occurred.

Willick will be listed on the national sex offender registry for 10 years after he is released and must provide a DNA sample for the national data bank.

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