A man who pleaded guilty to raping a 16-year-old girl while acting as her therapist was sentenced Monday in Fourth District Court to spend up to life in the Utah State Prison.
Judge Christine Johnson sentenced Jason Calder, 41, to five years to life in prison for each of the three first-degree felony charges of rape, object rape and forcible sodomy. Those sentences are to be served concurrently with one another.
Calder was also sentenced to one to five years in prison for each of the two second degree felonies of forcible sexual abuse and obstructing justice. Those sentences will run consecutively to each other and to the first degree felony sentences.
Calder had asked Johnson to run all the sentences concurrently, citing his lack of previous criminal actions and saying he hoped to get out of prison sooner for his daughter’s sake, and before his parents pass away.
“In life we are defined by our choices, Mr. Calder,” Johnson said after the sentencing. “Before these events, you had many positive things that defined you. What you did here is egregious, and I think that is an appropriate sentence.”
According to the probable cause statement, Calder worked as a counselor and therapist at a juvenile treatment facility located in Utah County from March through June in 2017.
Other staff members at the facility noted that Calder often held therapy sessions with a 16-year-old girl late at night that included walks outside of the facility, the probable cause statement says.
Calder ended up performing multiple kinds of sex acts with the girl on more than 10 occasions, the probable cause statement says.
The girl, during a statement given in court Monday, described self blame following the first sexual encounter with Calder, but said her brain normalized what was happening.
“I couldn’t see the wrongness in what we were doing, because I felt like if he’s smarter, older and more experienced than me and he’s doing it, then it has to be OK,” the victim said. “I honestly didn’t see anything unhealthy about what was going on at the time, but I was at such an unhealthy place in my own mental state of mind that I don’t think I could have.”
The girl was admitted to the treatment center for low self esteem and sexual addiction, said prosecutor David Sturgill.
“(Calder) was fully aware of that vulnerable position that (the victim) was in and exploited it,” Sturgill told the judge.
Prior to beginning a relationship with the victim, Calder told the judge he had a major career set back that left him feeling ashamed, and had been having serious challenges in his marriage for years that left him feeling “really lonely.”
The victim was the first to bring up feelings between the two of them, Calder said, and he did not follow through with his professional training that taught him how to act in such situations.
“When she told me she was attracted to me, she provided the validation and compassion I was craving in my life,” Calder said.
But Johnson told Calder he had breached the victim’s and her family’s trust in “a most hurtful way.”
Several friends and a family member spoke on Calder’s behalf Monday, largely painting him as a good man who had made a terrible mistake.
Other friends and colleagues described Calder as an active person who loved the outdoors and became a therapist because he desired to help other people.
But the victim’s family member said Calder had deliberately used his position of power to prey on the victim.
“From the beginning, Jason knew that the sexual issues were something with which (the victim) had struggled,” the victim’s father said. “Instead of using that information as a basis with which to help her, he used it to groom her and ultimately prey on her.”
The victim’s mother, through tears, described her hesitation at sending her daughter away for treatment, but said Calder told them they could trust him with their daughter.
“We trusted you with our most precious commodity — my baby. And you had the responsibility to heal her, but you didn’t,” the victim’s mother said. “Instead, you used your position of power and you manipulated her, and you victimized her and you further traumatized her all for your own benefit.”
The girl continued treatment after Calder was terminated, and told the judge she had made progress with her new therapist.
“(The victim) is a strong young woman,” Johnson told Calder prior to sentencing. “And she’s surrounded by people who are strong. And I have every confidence that she is going to be OK, but it’s going to be because of her efforts, and the people around her, not because of anything you’ve said or done here today. You can’t fix it.”
Calder said he took 100 percent accountability for what happened between him and the victim.
“What I want to say to (the victim) today is that nothing that happened between us was her fault,” Calder said. “It was my fault. I want her to know that I care for her just as deeply today as I every have.”