IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — A former Ionia therapist who pleaded to sexually abusing a patient and health care fraud was sentenced to prison Tuesday after the victim, in a visceral and eloquent statement, worked to explain how badly she was harmed by him and said the law didn’t fully recognize what happened to her.
“Force or coercion, coercion or force. Who’s going to listen when I try to explain that an imbalance of power is coercion and is force?” she said, going on to call Derek Robertson a predator.
The victim and her husband, whose names News 8 is not using to protect the victim’s identity, also expressed outrage that the most serious charge Robertson was charged with was not rape, but rather health care fraud.
“People say I’m one of the lucky ones. The way I see it, the only one lucky here is you,” the victim said, addressing Robertson directly. “Today, you are essentially exonerated of raping me in the eyes of the court, the police and the public. You are once again absolved of full accountability. I’m here today in full recognition that I have lost, that I will never regain who I was and I will never have the answers that I seek.”
Judge Suzanne Hoseth Kreeger abided by the terms of a plea agreement in ordering Robertson to spend between 13 months and four years in prison with credit for 57 days served. Robertson paid $6,700 in restitution. He was registered as a sex offender and may not have any contact of any kind with the victim.
In a statement before the court that lasted about 45 minutes, the victim said Robertson violated his duty to her and inflicted damage that has changed her forever. Describing several assaults in detail, she said Robertson knew exactly how to exploit her mental illness and the trauma of a previous sexual assault to abuse her.
“I asked for help. You should have been safe. You were my counselor,” the victim said. “Why are your actions so easily justified and swept under the rug as consensual? Why is this so easily seen as an affair or my choice? When those words come from people in power, it’s soul-crushing.”
“Your selfish conquest has changed many people forever,” the victim’s husband said. “May you rot in hell and be assured the hatred you seem to love is now shared by many. I don’t feel sorry for you.”
State investigators said a sexual relationship between Robertson and the patient lasted for nearly 18 months. The state also says Robertson — who at the time worked at Viewpointe Counseling in Ionia — admitted that he continued to bill the woman even when they only had sex during appointments.
Ionia County Prosecutor Kyle Butler pointed to the “obvious power differential” between Robertson and his client.
“The defendant had engaged in lengthy counseling sessions with the victim prior to the relationship changing to one in which the defendant then, in my opinion, took advantage of the situation, manipulated the victim, and then that turned into a situation where the defendant was then receiving sex,” Butler said. “With that, I think there’s a clear authority status (inaudible), if not predatory conduct was involved.”
The victim said she “vehemently” opposed Robertson’s plea agreement and had wanted the case to go to trial so she could testify.
“Your biggest (criminal) offense was not drugging me and raping me, but was instead health care fraud,” she said. “My health insurance company may have felt the sting in their wallet, but the valuation of the grievous injury you inflict on my mind, my body and my soul is discounted and set aside.”
“You win via rape culture and the lack of understanding that your position of power over me equated to an inability to consent, equaled coercion,” she said. “Ask the experts, because god knows I have. But it doesn’t matter when my voice is not heard.”
She said she intended to keep pushing for stronger penalties for therapists who abuse their patients.
“The charges versus the crimes are ridiculous. You should have been charged with multiple counts of rape,” the victim’s husband said. “You suggested, bribed, threatened to get what you wanted. That wasn’t what she came for. The laws against providers and to protect people are inadequate.”
The prosecutor agreed that Michigan law, as it stands now, is not equipped to handle cases like Robertson’s.
“(This case) made me recognize how the law does not adequately recognize the severity of this situation,” Butler said. “It just simply doesn’t make any sense that the law doesn’t recognize the difference between penetration and touching in this case. … The power differential in this case is absolutely staggering.”
Robertson was formally charged in May. He pleaded guilty in September to health care fraud, delivery of a controlled substance and fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. Several additional counts were dismissed under the terms of the plea deal.
While he acknowledged the emotion surrounding the case and the power of the victim’s statement, Robertson’s attorney said that his client should not bear the weight of possible inadequacies of state oversight.
“The law is what the law is,” attorney William Weise said. “Prosecutors have looked at this vigorously, thoroughly. My client was charged to the maximum extent allowed by law. He resolved the case without any legal incentive to do so. None.”
He said his client has “owned his conduct from Day One” and is accepting the consequences.
Robertson appeared in court via a video linkup from the county jail. Given his chance to speak, he apologized to the victim and her family.
“I am ready and prepared to pay my debt to society. I am very confident that I will learn a lot from this experience,” he said.
He also thanked the court for “consistently treating me with dignity and respect in what is easily the lowest point of my life.”
Judge Kreeger promised the victim that her words were heard, but also recognized that Robertson had taken responsibility.
“As a civilized society, we simply cannot allow individuals who are providing specialized treatment and therapy for the vulnerable to exploit them. Simply not acceptable,” the judge said. “Mr. Robertson’s conduct has been called out here today and has put other therapists on notice that should they choose to engage in a sexual relationship, exploiting a patient, that that will, in this courtroom, result in a prison sentence.”
Robertson’s license to practice has been suspended by the state and the case is scheduled to go before the Board of Social Work for review on Nov. 28, the Michigan Bureau of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs told News 8. In court Tuesday, Robertson’s attorney said his client does not intend to appeal the loss of his license.