Nearly two decades after he admittedly took advantage of his position of youth counselor and repeatedly had sex with a teenage girl in his care, 52-year-old Darren Wade Powell was confronted by his victim in court.
“I was raped by him,” testified the victim, named only in the indictment as S.T. “I hate Mr. Powell, and I hate myself for being so stupid.”
Powell was initially charged by a grand jury with two felony counts of indecent acts with a custodial child. He pleaded guilty on Thursday to two misdemeanor counts fo sexual battery. That guilty plea will net him a year of detention, a ban from ever counseling again and a place on the sex offender registry.
Prosecutor Alicia Milligan told the Albemarle County Circuit Court that the resolution resulted from lengthy discussions with the victim who reached out to authorities a little over a year ago.
“Her main objective was accountability,” said Milligan.
The case began in 2004, when the then 14-year-old S.T. was having trouble in school, said Milligan, noting that the girl had been suspended from school several times and had a public intoxication arrest the following year. By age 15, the girl was referred to Powell, she said, for professional counseling.
“They initially met at places like parks and Starbucks,” said Milligan.
Powell then played some sort of game that resulted in kisses and began buying cigarettes and alcohol for the girl, Milligan said.
“After that,” she said, “they began to meet at his apartment.”
That apartment figured into S.T.’s tearful testimony.
“I remember your apartment and the utter lack of furniture and the mattress on the floor,” S.T. testified.
There, sexual encounters between the counselor and the student occurred over the course of several months in 2005.
“I spent nearly two decades in this hellhole apartment,” S.T. testified. “You affected every relationship I’ve ever had.”
“Just when I think my rage is at an apex it mutates,” she continued. “I hate how his abuse has tyrannized over half of my life.”
Retired forensic psychologist Jeffrey Fracher, who is not connected to the case, said boundaries are crucial in counseling.
“Therapy is a very intimate experience, and someone who is needy can exploit that,” Fracher told The Daily Progress.
He offered the analogy of a parent-child relationship due to the vulnerability of the person getting the counseling and the trust invested in the caregiver.
“You violate that boundary, and people might never again feel safe with someone,” said Fracher. “That’s why it’s so destructive.”
In court Thursday, Judge Cheryl Higgins accepted the plea agreement whose terms call for a pair of 12-month sentences with one of them suspended. The plea demands that Powell relinquish his counseling license and never again work with minors in a one-on-one basis. Additionally, he must register as a sex offender and never seek expungement of the initial felony charges.
Testimony in a prior hearing indicated that Powell was a social worker at Tularosa High School in New Mexico when Albemarle County authorities sought his arrest in late February. He was extradited to Virginia in early March to face the charges.
Freed from the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail under an electronic monitoring system after an April bail hearing, Powell is not barred by his plea from serving the remainder of his sentence remotely. And the victim noted in court that she has no objection to his departure to Indiana to live with his sister.
“I want him gone,” she said. “He is evil incarnate.”
Dressed in a dark business suit in contrast to the striped jail jumpsuit that characterized previous court appearances, Powell did not speak at his sentencing beyond answering the judge’s yes-or-no questions.
“We agree that finality and closure are important to everyone involved,” his attorney Rhonda Quagliana told the court.
Quagliana noted that, since Powell’s arrest and extradition, no additional charges or complaints about her client have been made.
“These events were widely publicized,” Quagliana said.
One person who helped publicize the charges was the father of the victim, who posted flyers of Powell’s face on Charlottesville utility poles and magazine boxes. Quagliana asked the judge that she and her client be allowed to walk back to her office without any contact from the victim’s family.
“It is so noted, and the bailiffs are so alerted,” said Higgins.
The only person who agreed to speak after the hearing was the victim. Sitting on a bench with her neon aqua-dyed hair flowing in a light breeze, the 34-year-old graphic artist said she recently moved to upstate New York with her husband and son.
“I feel like I could have pushed it further,” she told The Daily Progress. “But I needed it to be behind me.”
She said that she came forward to protect others, something she she said is particularly important now that her son is approaching the age she was when her ordeal began.
“It’s really rough to watch my family go through this, because I know it breaks them,” she said. “To think that that could ever happen to him in any capacity would just break me.”