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'It's so important victims are aware.. they're not alone': Survivor speaks out about teacher's abuse

Posted at 9:17 PM, Nov 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-10 00:45:04-05

After watching the teacher she once trusted sentenced to 90 days in jail for sexually abusing her, a 19-year-old college student decided to tell her story to Denver7.

Her music teacher at Vista Peak Preparatory, Zachary Timbrell, admitted he sexually abused her over the course of several months. 

Denver7 does not typically identify victims of sexual assault, but in this case, she wanted to share her story. Denver7 agreed to identify her only by her first name: Tristana. 

“I think that it's so important that victims are aware that this happens, and that is prevalent, and that they're not alone. So that they can speak up and have courage to do what they need to do, and say what they need to say to get their perpetrators away from children, and away from people who could be harmed,” she said.

She argued against any suggestion that what happened to her could be considered an affair.

“An affair is consensual. An affair is wanted, and willing, and it is not manipulative. Abuse is manipulative.. that's what this was. Abuse is where someone in a position of trust does this to someone who was not wanting it, who was scared of it,” Tristana said. “I was 17, he was 31, almost twice my age, and he has children. There is no way that I would have consented to that, ever.”

“I was innocent, I was young, and I was a student who had built this relationship with this teacher who I trusted … my beloved teacher, my trusted teacher, my family friend. I knew his daughters,” she said. “He was saying, ‘You can't tell anyone else, it will ruin your life and mine. Do you want me to be without my children? Do you want my children to be without a father? Do you want all of these people's lives to be ruined just for your sake?”

Timbrell wept in court throughout much of his sentencing hearing. When he spoke, he apologized to Tristana and to his family for the hurt he caused.

After Timbrell left the courtroom in handcuffs, the woman who survived his abuse had a message for other teachers who are trusted to care for children.

“To teachers: I think they need to really, really be careful to set boundaries, and to never even think about crossing those boundaries,” Tristana said. “I don’t think that he sat and calculated out, the first year that he had me [as a student], how he was going to eventually do this … I don’t think he’s a terrible person through and through. I just think this is a terrible thing that happened.”

As for schools, she believes changes need to be considered across the board to confront the continuing problem of teachers taking advantage of students. Some of the abuse in this case happened on campus in Timbrell’s classroom. 

“I think they need to have policies where a teacher can’t be alone with a student, no matter the reason, I think there needs to at least be another adult in the room,” she said. 

Tristana said she believes schools need to openly discuss cases like hers rather than keeping them secret, even if they believe a teacher had only one victim. 

“They may think they know, but they never know. He’s the only one who knows,” she said. “If it’s made known that this happened, there may be other victims that come forward. I personally don’t think that there were in this case, but I think generally people should be aware of this because other people may come forward that were too scared or too manipulated to come forward in the past.” 

“I just think that this is incredibly heartbreaking, and as much as we wish that there was only one victim or one perpetrator in the school… there could be more.. and just because law enforcement believes that there is only one victim in this case, there may be victims of other teachers, and being made aware of that may give them the courage and the opportunity to speak up. Whereas before, they maybe couldn't have,” Tristana said.