“Too Lenient Sentence for Child Abuse – Train Don’t Blame”

A 44 year old teacher, from Kent, received an 18-month suspended sentence for two counts of sexual activity with a child by a person in a position of trust, an abuse which continued for 18 months. In addition he was placed on the sex offenders’ register indefinitely and barred from working with children, also indefinitely.

The Attorney General’s Office said it could not be referred to the Court of Appeal under the unduly lenient sentences scheme as this case does not come under its remit. Understandably there have been many complaints including Marilyn Hawes, a former teacher and founder of the charity ‘Enough Abuse UK’, which provides support for abuse victims.

Those complaining about the outcome are particularly astounded by the comments of Judge Joanna Greenberg QC, who said the victim had become obsessed with the teacher, that the victim had stalked the teacher rather than the other way around and that he was “emotionally fragile” because of complications with his wife’s pregnancy. The QC went on to say “if grooming is the right word to use, it was she who groomed you, (and) you gave in to temptation.”

These remarks are inappropriate and demonstrate the need for Judges to be given further and continuous training in the areas of abuse, trust, power and control amongst others.

The description of the 16 year old as “intelligent and manipulative” as though her “intelligence” is a dangerous weapon that adults may not be able to defend themselves against continues to place women, and vulnerable young people in a position of aggressor rather than victim. These kinds of comments demonstrate the lack of training as our society increases its understanding of how control and power is used.

Specifically it needs to be highlighted that any adult in a position of trust must also have continual training about the huge responsibility they undertake, and the way young minds can strive, in all innocence to find their place in the world as an adult.

It is wholly appropriate that this young person use her “intelligence” to experiment with “being a woman”, with her “desirability” to men and women, and with her “power” in a world where she is struggling to manage a place between child and adult, and where parents and teachers exert appropriate control at a time when she wishes to break free.

It is NOT however appropriate that the teacher is not aware of how the adolescent mind works, how important it is for this young person to be able to flex those muscles in a safe environment where she can be seen and kept safe, so that she learns to see men (and adults) as strong, safe individuals worthy of her in adulthood.

Teachers have a duty of care to their pupils, it would have been useful if this teacher could have seen his own vulnerability in this situation and taken steps to help him through a very difficult situation. Perhaps the school needs to address the environment in which teachers work, ensuring they have their own “safe space” to discuss difficult issues and find support to help them through thorny situations.

I do not doubt that there are many teachers facing this situation everywhere. Until the staff room becomes this “safe space” perhaps consideration could be given to the creation of a helpline number those that work with vulnerable young people can ring, that is anonymous, that would help them to think through ways to handle these difficult situations.

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