Warning: This story contains details of grooming and sexual exploitation of an underaged person and may be disturbing to some readers.
A former NFL and CFL football player was sentenced to 21 months in jail after sexually exploiting a teenage student while working in a North Vancouver school.
Steven Clarke, 31, was signed by the Miami Dolphins as a free agent in 2014 but was released before the start of the regular season. He then played for the BC Lions from 2014 to 2018.
He appeared in Richmond Provincial Court on Friday afternoon to receive his sentence after pleading guilty to one count of sexual exploitation earlier this year.
“The offence that was committed by Mr. Clarke is an act that our society can never tolerate,” said Richmond provincial court judge Derek Mah when reading out his decision.
Clarke had met the victim while working at a North Vancouver secondary school in 2021 and the two began a relationship in early 2022. The name of the victim and the school are protected by a publication ban.
“Screenshots of those conversations showed that Mr. Clarke wrote to (the victim) that he will always take care of ‘my future wife and mother of my kids’ and that it made him ‘hard’ when he read ‘how much (the victim) care and admire what (Clarke and the victim) have’,” said Richmond provincial court judge Derek Mah.
Clarke also requested the victim send him approximately 50 intimate photos, which constituted child pornography, Mah added. In return, Clarke had sent the victim a photo of his erect penis and a video of him engaging in sexual intercourse with another woman.
The two also engaged in sexual touching at school and had sexual intercourse in places including Clarke’s Richmond apartment. At one point, the two had unprotected sex and the victim had a pregnancy scare, which resulted in Clarke giving the victim emergency contraception at school.
‘Substantial’ jail sentence helps to denounce and deter the offender
During Clarke’s sentencing hearing on March 8, 2023, the prosecution and defence made a joint submission for the sentence to be 21 months in jail followed by probation. Mah accepted the submission today.
He explained that the suggested sentence of 21 months is close to the maximum of the sentencing range for sexual exploitation, and the substantial jail sentence serves the primary objectives of denunciation and deterrence.
Aggravating factors considered when determining an appropriate sentence included the victim’s age, Clarke’s abuse of his position of trust and authority, the significant impact on the victim’s mental and physical health, the impact on the victim’s parents, the high level of sexual interference which included unprotected sex, and Clarke’s suggestions of marriage and children.
“Such behaviour was very confusing and damaging to (the victim), as demonstrated in her early reaction to protect Mr. Clarke,” said Mah.
However, his early guilty plea was considered a significant mitigating factor, as well as a psychologist’s assessment that he is at low risk of re-offending.
Clarke also did not have a criminal record, is taking steps to turn his life around by attending counselling and other programs, and provided “15 strong letters of support.”
The letters, which painted a “favourable” picture of Clarke, described him as “caring, giving, selfless, loving, religious, supportive, positive, a mentor to young children and a philanthropist,” said Mah.
The court also heard that Clarke was sexually abused when he was 11 years old.
Mah added that Clarke was diagnosed with major depressive disorder “which arose after his arrest and continued until the present time.” However, the psychologist did not believe Clarke had “any sexual disorder or paraphilia diagnosis.”
Mah took note of Clarke’s remorse and regret as well, but said it was undermined by Clarke’s inconsistent statements of facts and victim-blaming statements to the psychologist.
Even if the victim were to be a willing participant, Mah cautioned, it would not be a legally relevant consideration for sentencing, as case law states that young people under 14 or 16 years old are “extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation.”
Clarke will spend 21 months in jail, followed by a three-year probation. He will also be registered on the Sex Offender Registry for 10 years and his DNA sample will be taken.
His probation conditions include no contact with the victim and her family, no communication or being in the presence of female persons who appear to be under 18 years old, and no volunteering or employment positions that involve being in a position of trust or authority towards a female person under 18, with exceptions.
Victim and family did nothing wrong: judge
Mah concluded by saying Clarke’s offence cannot be tolerated by society and added that children rely on adults, including teachers, to “nurture and guide and protect them.”
“But when someone in a position of trust or authority breaches that duty, the consequences are often catastrophic. Inevitably the abused child or the family carry the scars of sexual abuse, and even begin to fault themselves for what has happened,” he said.
Mah then turned to address the victim and her family, reassuring them that they had done nothing wrong.
“You carry no guilt, you carry no blame, and you have no shame and you have not failed anyone including your parents or yourself,” he told the victim.
He also wished Clarke the best when he reintegrates into the community in the future.
“Despite your conviction, I believe that you still have much to offer your family, your daughter and your friends and your community,” he said.