’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.
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.