Monday, 24 June 2013

The Jeremy Forrest case

Jeremy Forrest, the teacher who had a sexual relationship with a pupil of 15 and took her away to France, has now been convicted and sentenced. That is quite right and proper. I urge everyone interested to read the sentencing remarks of the judge, whcih are brief, clear and easily available at:

There are few points worth making about this. Firstly, the importance and value of an age of consent. Yes, those under that age may be - at least at the time - willing to enter into a sexual relationship but the age of consent makes this illegal and invalidates their consent. It is therefore a protection for them.

Then the judge, inadvertently no doubt, raised the possibility of Forrest waiting until the girl was 16. However, a sexual relationship with her would still have been illegal, as he was in a position of trust in relation to her, and in that situation the age of consent is 18. This was originally introduced in 2000 and is now in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 at Section 21. However, the offence as so defined currently only applies in the statutory sector. So a teacher or a youth worker who has such a relationship commits the offience if they are in the statutory sector but not if they are in the voluntary sector. So it is not a criminal offence in church life - although it most certainly is a disciplinary one. I think this is anomalous and that the offence should be extended to the voluntary sector and should include ministers of religion (of any faith).

Then we should consider the issue when the parties are of a comparable age. It is obviously one thing if a man of 30 has an affair with a girl of 15, but what if she has a relationship with a boyfriend who is also 15? If you are the parent of either, perhaps particularly of the girl, you would not be happy, but is it necessarily abuse? It may well not be, and the police may consider that it is not in the public interest to prosecute such cases.

As for Romeo and Juliet, the issue was not her age, which was 14 and which at one point her father thought was too young, but the fact that her preferred husband was from the other faction in Verona. Had she been willing to marry her father's choice there would have been no issue. But that takes us into the issue of arranged marriages versus love marriages and that is a quite different issue.

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