A schoolgirl flew back to England today, to be returned to the care of her family. She, aged 15, disappeared from home a little over a week ago. She was found on Friday, in France, in the company of her male maths teacher Jeremy Forrest. He has been arrested for child abduction under the auspices of a European Arrest Warrant, and, having indicated he won’t fight extradition, is due to be returned to England for questioning.
The press coverage and social media commentary has been, to some degree, stomach churning. One tweet, summarising a seemingly popular opinion, said:
‘[That schoolgirl] should write a book: ‘My Teenage Years’. Or, ‘How I Cost My Maths Teacher His Job’.
This level of victim blaming is not, sadly, unusual in crimes relating to women and girls. Victim blaming is even more so prevalent when scenarios would appear to involve sex, as this one, prima facie, does.
This is rape culture. Rape culture is a ‘concept used to describe a culture in which rape and sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone sexual violence.
Examples of behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming, sexual objectification, and trivializing rape’ (Wikipedia).
The problem with rape culture is it allows certain people, and indeed institutions, to turn a blind eye. It is rape culture which lead social services in Rochdale to write off girls who were being raped, sold and sexually exploited, as ‘prostitutes’.
It is rape culture which means that staff did not bother looking why, or how, or take measures to stop these girls being ‘prostitutes’. It is rape culture which allows the ‘wrong’ girls – because it is never the ‘nice’ girls – to be written off as ‘prostitutes’ and allows us to fail to safeguard them – fail to ask the questions which should have been asked, fail to acknowledge we owe them a duty, and quite simply, abjectively, all round, totally, fail them.
Preventing paedophile sex rings like those in Rochdale starts with our attitudes to schoolgirls like this one. No-one, save she and Forrest, knows the nature and extent of their relationship. But what we do know, what the law tells us – and I hope and pray our internal morality does too – is that only one of them owed a duty to the other – a duty of care, a duty to safeguard, a duty not to enter into a relationship outside that of student and teacher. And that wasn’t the schoolgirl.