Sex, Teachers and Students June 27, 2013Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite , trackback
A long argument last night about the Jeremy Forrest case with an old friend and a post that strays from the pleasantly brambled paths of history, though not, sadly, from the red brick road of education. For those outside the UK Jeremy Forrest was a twenty-nine-year-old teacher who had an affair with his fifteen year old student and then absconded with said student to France. He was arrested there, he was brought back and he has just been found guilty in the UK and sentenced to five and half year in prison, which will doubtless, ‘prison being prison’, mean a year and a bit: though given that he has been branded a pedophile in court the months he spends inside will be extremely unpleasant.
There are two disturbing things about this case. First, here we have a man having sex with an underage girl: the age of consent in the UK is 16. Second, we have a teacher having sex with a student, i.e. with someone placed in his care. Both of these points would, on their own, have rightly led to prosecution and prison, but for this blogger at least the second is perhaps even more serious than the first. The age of consent is necessarily an arbitrary line. Across the channel on the Continent many countries choose fifteen. And in the UK the Crown Prosecution Service does not routinely prosecute when girls aged under sixteen can be proved to have had sex – for example, when a fifteen-year-old is pregnant. The main point of discrimination for the CPS in these cases is the age of the male partner. Certainly, most of us would be far less concerned by a seventeen year old having sex with a fifteen year old than a fifty seven year old doing the same, though in UK law both would potentially be prosecuted as statutory rape. As to the Jeremy Forrest case a Guardian op ed writer (the always articulate often infuriating Hadley Freeman) gives a very fair reflection on the ex-teacher – ‘immature idiot’ rather than pervert – and his sins. Other thoughts: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
A starker question though is the question of teacher-student relations. Britain has an intelligent raft of laws, not routinely found in other countries, protecting students from predatory (or alla Freeman idiot) teachers and carers. Since 2003, in fact, it has been illegal for any man or woman to have sex with someone in their care who is not older than eighteen. Now Beach is a romantic and would like to believe that love can spring up anywhere and at any time. If you are a sixty-year-old teacher and you have a twenty-year-old student there is the possibility that you might become soul mates. If we imagine that Jeremy Forrest had had the good sense to wait a couple of years mightn’t he have managed to start a proper relationship with the girl who he met as a student?
Of course, any of this is possible and as Jeremy Forrest was led away to sentencing he and his ex-student swore eternal love. There are documented cases where life-long loves do begin on the fringes of legality: just down the road there is an ex-priest and his ex-teen-catechist and their very happy thirty-year long marriage. Good for them. But the courageous ex-priest (ostracised for a generation) and his belle are, sadly, the exception…
Beach has seen this thing played out a dozen times in university settings, where lecturers and professors have had affairs with students. What is remarkable is that those dozen cases didn’t happen with twelve different lecturers. Rather three lecturers had, over the years, four or five student partners. In other words, these cases involved serial abusers of trust: for the record two were bounders, one was an airhead. No laws were broken – at least no national laws – as the students were over eighteen. But these events were disturbing as the student in question often received a grade (directly or indirectly) from their teacher/lover and sat on opposite sides of the lecture hall. What was most remarkable – as a teacher I’m always painfully aware that most of my twenty-year-old students are three quarter adults and a quarter children – was the lack of shame and the lack of institutional disgust.
Liberalism is the philosophy of the individual. It says ‘I shall…’ Socialism is the philosophy of the state. It says ‘you must…’ Conservatism is the philosophy of society. It says ‘we should…’
Conservatism has its limits, but in these cases there is a lot to be said for that ‘should’: raised eyebrows, shaking heads and cutting people in the corridor.