Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
PROVO — Aspiring filmmaker Nate Calaway tries to keep busy between classes and his job at an ice cream shop. He watches thrillers like "Parasite" and "Pulp Fiction," plays video games and makes short movies with his friends.
Those he's closest with know about his plans to make films for much larger audiences someday. But the 17-year-old has avoided sharing something he fills his time to avoid thinking about: After landing his first job at the Subway sandwich shop near his family's home, he was victimized by a supervisor more than twice his age.
"I don't want to be treated differently," Calaway said. "I don't want them to feel like they have to change how they speak to me and how they act around me, just because of this experience I've been through."
The teenager is now speaking up publicly, citing concern that his abuser will do the same thing to others and joining his mother in voicing frustration over prosecutors' handling of the case. KSL.com does not typically identify victims of sex crimes, but Calaway opted to use his name.
His former boss admitted he had a relationship of special trust to the boy, court documents show, and touched him without consent a year ago. Justin Thomas Nielson, 36, of Springville, pleaded guilty to forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony, as part of a plea bargain. Nielson had hired the boy and "would be aware of the victim's age," police wrote in a booking affidavit at the time of his arrest.
On Monday, 4th District Judge Kraig Powell ordered Nielson to serve 3 1/2 months in jail, four years of probation and to undergo treatment. The judge suspended a prison sentence of up to 15 years, meaning it won't take effect unless he violates conditions of his supervised release.
The teenager has had trouble focusing on school and sleeping, he said, feeling alone much of the time and scared when he drives by the sandwich shop. Calaway had hoped his aggressor would be sent directly to the Utah State Prison.
Still, Nielson likely would have faced a lesser penalty if the teen's mother hadn't intervened in the case by poring over the state code and consulting lawyers she knows.
Nielson originally faced two lesser charges of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor — one a third-degree felony charge and the other a class A misdemeanor. But prosecutors agreed to upgrade them after Alyson Calaway determined the original case didn't reflect the authority he had over her son and urged Utah County Attorney David Leavitt to review it.
"I found myself having to explain the laws about a special position of trust to the prosecutor's office, and I'm not even a lawyer," Alyson Calaway said.
In the following weeks, her son believed he saw Nielson twice at a new restaurant where he was working as a busboy, despite a no-contact order from the judge.
Distraught, he left that job and got another where he already knew the employees and where there were no hidden areas.
Calaway said he suspects his boss targeted him — taking him to a room with cameras that didn't work — because the teenager is out and open about being bisexual.
"I'm proud of my sexual orientation and who I am, but the defendant took advantage of knowing that I'm LGBTQ," Calaway said in court Monday.
Nielson, who helped to run several nearby Subway shops until he was fired because of the criminal case, apologized Monday. "I thought at the time that I was engaging in a consensual relationship," he said, but later realized how wrong he'd been.
Calaway recalled his boss asking him about his sexuality during a job interview and later displaying pornography on his phone. But he didn't want to raise concerns and risk harming the good rapport he had with his boss.
When his mother began advocating for stronger criminal charges, she said a deputy Utah County attorney told her that juries in the county aren't comfortable with crimes wherein the defendant and victim are both male — an assertion she views as homophobic. She said prosecutors seemed to want to resolve a backlog of cases quickly in the pandemic instead of using the full force of the law, a notion Leavitt disputes.
The county attorney does not think jurors would be less likely to believe a boy than a girl testifying to abuse by an adult, he told KSL.com. He noted his office replaced the prosecutor with another attorney after the boy's mother relayed her concerns.
"There's not a human being on the planet doesn't have some implicit bias of one sort or another. And when I find prosecutors that express a bias, then I need to find a prosecutor that doesn't have that particular bias," Leavitt said. "We're really trying to serve victims as best we can, and be responsive to victims."
State law allows for heftier charges for those in a relationship "of special trust," Leavitt said, such as employers, coaches and religious leaders. But a "screening" team of prosecutors that determined which charges to file — a team that didn't include the original prosecutor — wasn't certain that a jury would agree that Nielson met the definition of an employer, Leavitt said. However, attorneys in his office concluded after further review there's also evidence Nielson had coerced the boy, a factor that supported the heftier charges.
In exchange for Nielson's guilty plea, and as part of a plea deal, two counts of forcible sodomy, a first-degree felony, were dismissed. Leavitt said the family had agreed to the plea bargain and noted Nielson is now a felon who will be on Utah's sex offender registry.
The teen and his mother they were informed of the plea negotiations but did not have a choice in them.
"We have been traumatized by Mr. Nielson," Alyson Calaway said, "and we have been retraumatized by the criminal justice system."