Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

’15 – Love’. No, not Wimbledon but a week of grooming by the British media

‘Jimmy Savile groomed a nation’ screamed the headlines last year.  I have a sense of déjà vu as it seems that we’re being groomed yet again, this time into accepting that school teacher Jeremy Forrest is a weak individual whose only crime was to follow his heart; the poor man was the victim of the allure of a girl-child’s overtures! Only not all of us are fooled.  My question is, where is this narrative being challenged in the mainstream media?

 

Last weekend, the Sun ran with a series of sensationalist headlines (including ‘I groomed my teacher, now I want his babies’).  Blogger @MissesTea brilliantly points out here how the eroticisation of a disturbing case of child grooming is nothing more than  ‘Operation Groom a Nation’ and she lays down the gauntlet to the Sun editor.  At the time of writing, there is still no response and the silence from other parts of the media is deafening, other than child protection campaigner Sara Payne who gave her view under the Sun story:

 

THIS girl is saying she’s in love with him and will wait for him for one simple reason — she has been GROOMED.(1)

 

and Jan Moir whose scathing piece in the Mail rightly attacked Forrest but unfairly referred to ‘Gemma’ (not her real name but her chosen pseudonym) as ‘deluded’ and a ’silly girl’. Neither one of these descriptors is remotely edifying and given the circumstances, Gemma’s declarations of undying love are entirely understandable:

 

  • a 14 year old girl struggling with bulimia and self-harm when Forrest (a seemingly cool teacher, who was in a band and swore in front of his pupils) started to groom her. It would be hard not to be at the very least flattered by the attention. It is however totally wrong of Forrest to not only have encouraged but exploited her infatuation, instead of referring  her to the appropriate professionals for support;

  • the ‘two of us against the whole world’ chimera  is an incredibly powerful and common fantasy;

  • rebelling against parental wishes often influences teen behaviour and further entrenches their stance.  Gemma is estranged from her mother who is strongly opposed to this ‘relationship’.

 

Gemma herself says that a supply teacher attempted to groom her at the same school when she was twelve.  This school clearly has a lot to answer for as she reported his behaviour to another teacher who advised ‘not to say anything about it and they wouldn’t use the teaching agency again’.

Whether successful or not, a groomer is still a groomer; it is their actions not the end result that defines them as sexual predators.  Let us not forget either that it is reported that Forrest had attempted to groom girls he taught before, one as young as thirteen.

 

As I wrote earlier on this week:

 

This reporting also reinforces all the worst and most damaging stereotypes about the so called provocative and hyper-sexualised teenage girls who set their sights on an adult male and nothing will get in their way of ‘ensnaring him’.

And hey presto, as if by magic, the following headline is predictably conjured up:

Yes, teachers seducing pupils is vile. But, I know what scheming temptresses girls of 15 can be - I was shameless in the Daily Mail.(Clicking this link takes you to a copy of the article, not a one that will earn the Mail any revenue)

 

The author of this piece, Melissa Kite, writes ‘when the furore surrounding the Jeremy Forrest abduction case exploded, I felt a sharp pang of guilt’.  I would like to point out the rather obvious that there is world of difference between going out to clubs dressed up to look older than one’s years and sitting in a Maths class at 14, in school uniform and having a natural teenage adoration for what appears to be a cool dude of a teacher exploited for said teacher’s own gratification.  Conflating the two very different situations is disingenuous to say the least and dangerous.

 

She goes on to assert:

 

And faced with the full force of a teenager's lust for romantic adventure, it cannot always be easy for a man to say 'no'

 

Whoa, really?! This ‘St Trinian’s girls out on the rampage’ is the stuff of male fantasy (see footnote). Are men really such slaves to their uncontrollable sexual desires that they are so powerless?

 

Kite seems to think this is a grey area.  Is this one of those fifty shades of grey type areas as I can see not a single one?  It is black and white; a school teacher and pupil relationship is strictly prohibited, quite clearly and irrefutably so for reasons so obvious that I need not enumerate them.

 

Meanwhile on Twitter, it is disturbing to see grown men lapping up the romanticisation and eroticisation of this case.  One has to wonder why.  It is worth noting that these same men who hang onto every one of Gemma’s words dismiss those of girls who say that Forrest attempted to groom them.

 

Barely 16 is still a very tender age and with months of enforced separation, it would be difficult not to yearn, reconstruct the past and over-romanticise it.  One can imagine how this would have played out had they not been caught.  The reality of living in a small one room B&B, running out money, struggling for work, the subjects of an international search would undoubtedly have resulted in a patina of this shiny new ‘romance’ forming once the excitement and novelty of being à deux had worn off.

 

What a travesty that this note of caution in the Guardian has been ignored:  To glance at some headlines, a reader might think this was a conventional love story: "I still love him"; "He's wonderful, I'll fight for him". But this was, child protection professionals agree, a relationship built around abuse.

 

So I ask again, where is the rest of the press on this? It’s like waiting for Godot.  I wager that if Forrest were Muslim there would be plethora of mainstream media commentaries and social media comments universally condemning Forrest’s predatory behaviour.

1. The Sun asked if readers agreed with Sara Payne’s view and to tweet their comments using #schoolgirl.  I had the misfortune to look under this hashtag only to be confronted with endless pornographic pictures of half naked women in school uniform.  

 

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12 thoughts on “’15 – Love’. No, not Wimbledon but a week of grooming by the British media

  • Elizabeth. says:

    Admin i thought the name Melissa Kite rang a bell. She has also written an article in this weeks Woman magazine about a relationship she was in with an abuser.
    In the article she uses the phrase “volatile power struggle”
    She says her abuser was a “consummate manipulator and found the bit of me that was vulnerable”
    Im very sure that this is the case. But my question to Melissa is that “If you found it difficult why cant you see the same difficulties, only worse with the Forrest case. Because in this case she was UNDER sixteen. I believe she was 14 when the grooming started. And part of that grooming IS to make the victim feel responsible.
    A friend of mine had a crush on our form tutor and she would flirt with him regularly (with me standing on the sidelines embarrassed) But NOTHING ever happened Why? Because he wasnt a child abuser.
    I had a crush on our Craft teacher when i was at school (but NOTHING ever happened. Not even when he had to carry me up several flights of stairs in the hotel, after i badly hurt my ankle after falling down concrete stairs in a cave, on the school trip to Switzerland when i was 13. Why did nothing happen? Because he wasnt an abuser.
    I am beyond disappointed that an article full of abuse apologism has come from someone who has been in an abusive relationship themselves.
    Having said that there are a few of us here and on Twitter who have seen this pattern very recently in someone else.
    Please please dont take that the wrong way Im in NO WAY saying that everyone who has sadly experienced abuse goes on to spout abuse apologism Thats really not what i am saying. But its a worrying pattern and its the second time ive seen it in as many months.

  • Elizabeth. says:

    I really hope ive explained that well and that it hasnt come across badly.

    • Admin says:

      Thanks for you comment, Elizabeth. I did not read your comment as equating apologism with all who experience abuse. One of our members shared that for many years, she internalised her experience and this shaped how she viewed others experience – sometimes in a judgmental way. Sometimes survivors may internalise and self-blame and this can affect how they view other survivors.

      • Alison says:

        Thanks Elizabeth, I didn’t read your comment that way either. I was surprised by Melissa Kite’s piece, I must say as she did write quite a good one for the DM about her former abusive relationship in the wake of the Nigella publicity.

        • Elizabeth. says:

          Thankyou Admin and Alison. The internalisation and self blame that a surviver can end up feeling is, i feel taken advantage of by some sections of the media. Its another reason why this campaign is so important.

  • Vonny Watts says:

    Absolutely spot on and a defiant stance against a highly negligent and questionable MMM!

  • Vonny Watts says:

    Absolutely spot on and a defiant stance against a highly negligent and questionable MSM!

  • Caroline says:

    One can imagine how this would have played out had they not been caught. The reality of living in a small one room B&B, running out money, struggling for work, the subjects of an international search would undoubtedly have resulted in a patina of this shiny new ‘romance’ forming once the excitement and novelty of being à deux had worn off.

    In which case, if her feelings had changed and she had thought better of the whole thing, I have no doubt that she would have decided to return to the UK – which she could have done at any time without any legal consequences for her (quite rightly).

    You are not trying to protect her from sexual predators, you are seeking to have her “protected” from herself. Either you don’t think she has the capacity to make her own choices (which is what the Taliban think about women), or perhaps you just don’t like the idea of her being allowed to make choices you don’t agree with? Perhaps a bit of both. Either way, forcibly confiscating someone’s freedom of choice is at the very heart of abuse.

    • Admin says:

      He was her teacher, and had legal responsibility to keep her safe until she was 18.

      He could have waited until she was 18, but he chose not to. He chose instead, to pursue a sexual relationship with her.

      He had agency.

      Coming onto this site to talk about ‘choice’ in relation to how the Taliban see women is disingenous, at best.

      We suggest you read some of the experiences we have with 12 year olds being considered to have ‘agency’, or volunteer to work with a service that supports girls and women who have been sexually exploited as you are talking from a particularly privileged position.

      • Alison says:

        Caroline, some see this as a grey area and one where emotions run dry. They do run high but the point I keep making (others too)is that the issue at the crux of this whole case is that regardless of the feelings of Gemma (past, present, future), Forrest abused his position for his own ends. Instead of, as he claims, fleeing the country out of fear of Gemma’s suicidal feelings he should and could have referred her to the appropriate professionals for support. He didn’t. Ditto when he became aware of her eating disorder and self-harm. He acted purely out of self-interest with no concern for her welfare or wellbeing, situations that any mental health professional will tell you need to be handled with extreme care. As a teacher, acting in loco parentis, that was his duty of care. If someone is suicidal, the last course of action is to isolate them, make them 100% dependent on yourself and go into hiding without access to health professionals who could help.

        At the end of the day, no matter how you try to dress it up, children need to be protected from this type of predatory and exploitative behaviour. No ifs, no buts. We’re not talking about two 15 year olds on the run but a teacher and his pupil. Trying to reframe this as a children’s civil rights issue is in my view, totally misplaced.