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Illinois teaching assistant, 24, who had sex and sent lingerie pics to student, 14, spared jail, gets probation

Allyssa Gustafson, a special needs teacher’s assistant in Champaign, Illinois, had abused the teen -- a 14-year-old boy -- on at least five occasions, from March to August 2019
(Champaign County Jail)
(Champaign County Jail)

URBANA, CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, ILLINOIS: Allyssa Gustafson, a 24-year-old woman who admitted to sexually abusing a teenage boy for whom she acted as a teaching assistant, was sentenced to four years of probation. Judge Roger Webber said on Friday, October 30, that he did not believe Gustafson, who had no prior criminal convictions, was a danger to the public. However, he said that she would have to register as a sex offender for life as punishment, calling it the “the modern-day equivalent of the scarlet letter.”

According to news reports, Gustafson, a special needs teacher’s assistant in Champaign, Illinois, had abused the teen -- a 14-year-old boy -- on at least five occasions, from March to August 2019. The boy enrolled at the Circle Academy in Urbana, a school that reportedly specializes in teaching children with “behavioral and emotional challenges”. Police said that she had communicated with him over Facebook Messenger and Snapchat, and sent him photos of herself in a bathing suit and lingerie. 

When the boy’s mother found the photos, she recalled seeing Gustafson at their home. She was, however, under the impression that she was a high school senior, and not a teaching assistant. Gustafson was charged in November 2019 for sexually assaulting the student.

Gustafson, a mother of two who now lives in Tuscola, pleaded guilty in September this year to aggravated criminal sexual abuse for engaging in a sex act with a minor. As per news reports, however, her plea deal was in exchange for the dismissal of a more serious count of criminal sexual assault initially brought by Assistant State Attorney Kristin Alferink. If convicted of the more serious charge, Gustafson would have faced penalties ranging from four to 15 years in prison.

Alferink, who sought a five-year prison sentence for Gustafson, told the judge that the facts agreed to at the time of the plea were that she and the teen had several sexual encounters between May and August 2019. “She sent him photos of herself in lingerie and a bathing suit,” Alferink said, adding that Gustafson, who was in a position of trust, had instructed him to delete any social-media posts between the two of them.

In their chats, some of those exchanges showed that she was concerned about fellow employees at the academy discovering their relationship. In fact, her fears were so strong that she ordered him to get rid of all the evidence.

Her attorney, Mark Lipton, however, had sex-offender evaluator and treatment provider Michael Kleppin testify that he found Gustafson to be at a low risk to re-offend and said that she had been helped by counseling over the past seven months. Kleppin also said he’s not aware of any treatment options available in prison for female sex offenders.

Lipton further argued that she was not a danger to the community, and had strong family support. She would thus be closely monitored while on probation. Lipton also argued that the lifetime sex-offender registration was already causing problems for Gustafson, who worked at a fast-food restaurant before the birth of her second child.

“I made a terrible error in judgment and this has hurt a lot of people,” Gustafson said in court, apologizing to her victim and his mother present there. “I am sorry for the pain I have caused so many people.”

Judge Webber said that it was apparent that Gustafson didn’t “contemplate the effects of her conduct at all”. He thus awarded her the lesser punishment. “The public doesn’t need to be protected from her,” Judge Webber said. Along with probation, he also gave Gustafson 180 days in jail but set a hearing for December to see if she would qualify for electronic home detention.