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(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) After being sexually abused by her 9th grade teacher, Jaime Heiner now spreads awareness about sexual violence and sexual abuse against children, March, 1, 2014.
Utah teen shares her story of sex abuse to empower others

Jaime Heiner, who was abused by her former teacher, started an organization called I Am to help victims of abuse.

First Published Mar 17 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Mar 17 2014 08:04 pm

As Jaime Heiner drove past Stephen Niedzwiecki’s home in Kaysville one night in the fall of 2012, she glanced over and saw that only his bedroom light was on.

Immediately, a thought came. It was likely irrational, she admits, but nonetheless it flooded her mind: What if he was in his room sexually abusing a teenage girl like he had done to her?

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Up to that point, she had never told anyone about the year of abuse at the hands of her former junior high teacher and basketball coach.

"I thought that since I was the only one hurt by it, I could deal with it on my own," Heiner said in a recent interview. "He told me if I did come forward, it would destroy my family, so I didn’t say anything for a really long time ... [But] I knew if I didn’t say anything in that moment, I wouldn’t have the courage to later. So I pulled out my phone and contacted my bishop."

Heiner, then 16, met with her Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints bishop, and confessed that she had been "dating" her former teacher, who was 17 years older than she, and that their relationship had become sexual.

The bishop called police. Niedzwiecki was arrested and charged in 2nd District Court in December 2012 with eight counts of forcible sodomy, one count of attempted rape — all first-degree felonies — along with two counts of second-degree felony forcible sexual abuse.

In January 2014, Niedzwiecki, 34, pleaded guilty to a number of reduced charges. Heiner said she plans to tell him at his Friday sentencing that he no longer has power over her, that she plans to accomplish all her goals without him holding her back.

That moment will end a long and confusing journey for Heiner — a journey that began two years ago when she was 15 years old and her teacher kissed her in his car during a disc golf outing.

The Salt Lake Tribune does not generally name victims of sexual abuse, but is doing so in Heiner’s case, with her permission, because she has gone public with her experience and is using it to encourage other victims to speak out.

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"On a roller coaster" » Heiner, now 17, said her relationship with Niedzwiecki began innocently enough: He taught her science at Jefferson Academy in Kaysville. She often stayed after school to work on an extra-credit project in his class, and they spent even more time together after she joined the girls’ basketball team, of which he was an assistant coach.

Heiner said that after their first kiss, Niedzwiecki began to study her LDS faith. He was invited into the Heiner home under the pretense that he wanted to learn more about their church, yearned for family and hoped to mentor Heiner and her brother.

Heiner said her parents were initially curious about what this grown man wanted to do with their family, but they softened as Niedzwiecki sought information about the Book of Mormon and other tenets of their faith.

"My parents kind of thought, ‘Here is someone who wants to be good and be part of a family,’ " Heiner said. "We have the opportunity to help him and introduce him to the gospel."

Heiner now doubts that Niedzwiecki’s intentions were ever truly based on learning about her faith, and believes they were rooted instead in getting closer to her. Their relationship progressed and became sexual in May 2011, though her parents still believed the married teacher was interested in her only as a mentor.

"When it first started, I felt like I was on a roller coaster," Heiner said. "I didn’t really know what was happening and I was just kind of along for the ride ... I was really confused a lot, just because he was really manipulative, so I couldn’t keep what was reality straight.

"I would say, ‘You kissed me first,’ and he would say, ‘No, that’s not how it happened. This is how it happened.’ And you know, he’s 17 years older than me, and I didn’t have any way of saying that’s not true. Really, whatever he told me became reality."

Heiner said she was always uncomfortable with the sexual acts that occurred between them, but said she went along with it because she thought if she didn’t, he would do what he wanted with her anyway.

Beyond their physical connection, Heiner said, Niedzwiecki had a psychological hold on her throughout their 15-month relationship.

"He told me if I ever came forward, his life would be over," she said. "He could never teach again and he would go to prison for the rest of his life. And my life would be over because all it would take was one Google search and a future employer would find out. At that time, I wanted to be a teacher, and so he was like, ‘What school is going to hire a teacher who has done this with her teacher?’ "

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