Six women appeared in a Bucks County courtroom Tuesday and described years of manipulation and coercion into sexual relationships with a once-trusted teacher.
Their words were instrumental in securing a guilty plea from Christian Willman, who prosecutors say victimized students in Bucks and Lehigh Counties.
Willman, 40, was sentenced Tuesday to six to 12 years in state prison for sex assaults against students at two high schools whom he groomed into having prolonged relationships with him.
He chose not to address his victims during the proceeding, and had no reaction to their statements. Afterward, his attorney, Matthew Sedacca, said only that Willman accepted the sentence.
Willman’s actions came to light in May, when four former students at Palisades High School in Kintnersville, about an hour north of Philadelphia, contacted police. After Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub announced Willman’s arrest, two other victims — former students of Willman’s at Parkland High School in Lehigh County — reported that they, too, had been coerced into sexual relationships with him.
Deputy District Attorney Mary Kate Kohler, the lead prosecutor in the case, said the guilty plea Tuesday in Doylestown to charges of sex assault and corruption of minors was “a win for victims everywhere" and an important day for justice.
“I remain immensely in awe of the courage of all of these young women, and their bravery and resolve to come forward and ensure justice was served and prevent future victimization,” she said.
In statements to County Court Judge Wallace Bateman, the six victims recounted how Willman built their trust through flattery and special treatment. He acted more like a student than an adult, the women said, and initiated inappropriate conversations, sometimes asking them about their bodies and sexual experience.
“He took an interest in me in a way that felt exciting and flattering at the time,” one woman said. “At 14 years old, these things made me feel special. I know now this was him grooming me to be a victim.”
Bateman admonished Willman on Tuesday, saying his victims went to school seeking mentorship and guidance, and instead “found pure evil masked as a teacher.”
“But for their courage, you’d probably still be a coach, a teacher, and adviser, and it doesn’t take much imagination to guess what would be going on," the judge said. "But that has stopped now, and it won’t happen again.”
Investigators said Willman ceased all contact with the victims after graduation, as if they had “aged out of victimhood." The earliest assault took place in 2005, during Willman’s tenure as a teacher, soccer coach and theater supervisor at Parkland, outside Allentown.
Willman assaulted the girls both on and off school property, inviting one to his home, plying her with alcohol at a time when he said his wife and children were out of town.
The women told Bateman they all were damaged by the experience, becoming alienated from their own families and unable to form lasting relationships with other men.
“Maybe he was looking for a vessel for his own feelings,” one woman said, "but when that vessel is the body of a 17-year-old girl … it takes a long time for her to heal.”