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Dispute in Exeter sex case centers on whether school guidance counselors are therapists

Union Leader Correspondent

February 20. 2018 11:29PM


BRENTWOOD — The defense lawyer for a former Exeter High School guidance counselor accused of sexually assaulting a student while providing “therapy” is trying to get some of the charges dismissed, arguing that counselors aren’t therapists.

The legal dispute over the charges against Kristie Torbick could soon be decided by Rockingham County Superior Court Judge Andrew Schulman, who has given county prosecutors until March 10 to provide additional information to defense attorney Mark Sisti and the court.

Torbick, 38, of Lee, was indicted last year on three counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault, five counts of felonious sexual assault and two counts of sexual assault.

The assaults allegedly involved a 14-year-old female student and occurred in Epping, Exeter and Lee.

Torbick’s lawyers asked the court to dismiss the three aggravated felonious sexual assault charges. The defense claims the state laws being used to bring the charges are “unconstitutionally vague.”

The dispute involves RSA 632-A:2, which states that a person is guilty of aggravated felonious sexual assault when he or she “provides therapy, medical treatment or examination of the victim and in the course of that therapeutic or treating relationship or within one year of termination of that therapeutic or treating relationship … acts in a manner or for purposes which are not professionally recognized as ethical or acceptable … or uses this position as such provider to coerce the victim to submit.”

The law also defines “therapy” as the “treatment of bodily, mental, or behavioral disorders by remedial agents or methods.”

Torbick’s lawyers argue she was not a licensed therapist when the alleged assaults occurred and that the language in the law does not clearly state that the services provided by a high school counselor could meet the definition of providing therapy.

“By applying this statute to the defendant, a person who is not a licensed therapist and giving advice to a student, this statute could also apply to a myriad of relationships beyond the scope of the statute. The statute could apply to an AA sponsor or even … a close friend who is there in a time of need. This statute does not provide fair notice that it may apply to a high school counselor who is not a mental health practitioner and has no degrees in mental health therapy or treatment,” the defense motion to dismiss said.

Assistant County Attorney Melissa Fales said the state’s position is that the aggravated felonious sexual assault charges are supported “because the defendant was providing ‘therapy’ as defined in the statute and further developed in subsequent case law.”

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