Jeremy Forrest and the Abuse of Trust

A couple of years ago, I was working as a nurse in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) with a 16 year old girl. One day, out of the blue, she confessed an attraction to me.

My immediate response – other than to put in a referral to an optician’s, obviously – was to politely but firmly remind her that I was her nurse, that there was no prospect of anything but a professional relationship, and to suggest to her that she look for a boyfriend her own age. I also made sure that I didn’t work with her again unless there was a female colleague present.

Despite what you may think from Mills and Boon novels (those aren’t grounded in social realism? Who knew?) sexual relations between nurses and patients are strictly verboten under the Nursing and Midwifery Council Code.

20. You must establish and actively maintain clear sexual boundaries at all times with people in your care, their families and carers

If I hadn’t kept my boundaries, I wouldn’t have only been committing serious professional misconduct. I would also have been committing a criminal offence. The girl was 16, and therefore over the age of consent. However, she was in my care, and that would make it a crime under the Sexual Offences Act of “abuse of a position of trust”, which runs up to the 18th birthday. There are good reasons for this. The power of a teacher, nurse, social worker or children’s home worker over a young person can be enormous. With that comes the capacity to do enormous damage to vulnerable kids if boundaries aren’t respected and trust is abused.

I mention this because of a depressing slew of responses – often left in the comments threads to online newspaper articles – accusing the police and media of “hounding” a “young couple in love”. Some of those people seem to think if Jeremy Forrest had waited a few months then it all would have been fine – and for the reasons listed above, it wouldn’t. Others seem to regard the girl as some sort of teen seducer.

Have a look at this comment piece in the Independent. The author, quite rightly, takes the Daily Mail to task over a tacky, voyeuristic article that dissect’s Forrest’s relationship with his wife and with his pupil, by trawling their social networking accounts. If the Independent piece is good and well-argued, the comments left underneath are…..Oh dear.

As his lawyer said, his only crime was that he fell in love with a 15yr old…he was stupid the way he went about it, but I don’t think there will be any more than 5-10% of anyone who knows about this story that thinks he did it with any malice or force/manipulation of the girl, and that she didn’t know what she was doing. Again we’re casting judgement…but all I’m said is that I agree with Martin – love has no boundaries.

Was this a manhunt for murderers and war crimials or just a besotted couple? ………….Sad sad journalism indeed.

There’s been a few surprising voices added to this chorus. Peter Tatchell, for example, is someone I often agree with.

I subsequently had a Twitter exchange with Mr Tatchell. In all fairness, he was very clear that his view was that he’s not defending Forrest, and if he had a sexual relationship with his pupil, then he should be prosecuted for it. Mr Tatchell insisted his only objection was use of the word “abduction” for taking her to France.

Fair enough, but does Mr Tatchell really think any parent would agree that a teacher should be allowed to take their 15 year old daughter out of the country without their knowledge or permission?

Ironically, it’s the tacky Daily Mail article that gives a few hints that describing them simply as a couple in love is dubious to say the least.

[The girl], who describes herself on Twitter as a ‘self-loathing, music-loving, art and fashion-obsessed nostalgic loner’ was reported missing last Friday after failing to turn up at her school in Eastbourne.

A “self-loathing loner”? Admittedly it’s entirely possible to read too much into somebody’s Twitter profile. Even so, it does beg the question of whether that sounds like the self-description of a confident, beckoning Lolita.

One could argue – and admittedly this is speculation on my part – that it  sounds more like a girl who may be quite vulnerable. Perhaps even someone who might be susceptible to grooming.

Ultimately these are questions that will be decided in a court rather than in blogs, tweets and online comment threads. Even so, it ought to give those who depict the girl as an equal partner – or even a teenage seducer – some pause for thought.

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7 thoughts on “Jeremy Forrest and the Abuse of Trust

  1. Thanks for posting about this very challenging issue! it is difficult for both the care giver and the one receiving care. I think most folks just do not get the power relationship issues, nor the power of attraction that arises with the great intimacy between caregiver and care recipient. Difficult territory indeed!

  2. this very challenging issue

    Not. Teachers should not have sex with their pupils.

    Also, I’m sure teenagers learning to deal with unrequited lust is a fundamental part of growing-up. I’m not sure a teacher can discharge this responsibility by shagging them.

  3. Yes! That is what I have been saying too. When I was a teen there was a plot line on home and away where young teacher David and pupil Sophie fell in love. I thought it was wonderfully romantic. Now, however I would be appalled by such a story. I worked in care homes with teen boys and girls from when I was 25 and some of them had crushes on myself and some young colleagues. We always handled Ulf situations in professional and caring ways. We had a responsibility to ensure their safety, mental health and that they were protected. I, like Mr Forrest, am young at heart, and quite childlike at times. This doesn’t mean that I don’t know that boundaries are there for a reason. Most of the people defending this ‘relationship’ are teenagers, who like I did, see this as a Romeo and Juliet tale of forbidden love. As an adult, I see it for what it is. A man, unhappy with his life who mistook a teenaged crush for grown up love and treated it as such. He has ruined his life and that of others for this misguided judgement. I feel sorry for everyone involved but an example should be made. She was 14 when it started. She was a child. I only hope that she and he can move on without further hurt and upset, and that she allows herself to have the life of a teenager and not a too young girl married to a man in his 30s. God that was longer than I thought it was going to be.

  4. I read that article from the Independent, and I’d agree totally that the Daily Mail’s intrusion into Emily Forrest’s private life was unwarranted and tasteless in the extreme. However, there’s a comment article in today’s Daily Mail arguing that there’s now a modern generation of teachers looking and behaving like “boy band singers”, breaking down the old traditional barriers between pupils and teachers – and that teenage girl pupils are inevitably going to turn their attention to their teacher as well as (or instead of) their favourite pop star.

    No it doesn’t excuse the teacher for reciprocating: what Jeremy Forrest did was wrong, but whether he was in love, besotted or whatever, I do think he genuinely cared for Megan and was not merely “grooming” her, as some of the more vitriolic criticisms of him have been suggesting. At the same time, although Megan is legally a minor, she’s not a “child”. At 15 she’s a growing young adult with feelings and opinions of her own : if she’d broken the law in any way she could be prosecuted – she’d be presumed to know the difference between right and wrong. I don’t know what her feelings towards Jeremy are or were, but she went along willingly with the ‘elopement’ or ‘abduction’ – and deliberately deceived her mother in the process, as well as not telling her friends “because she knew they’d try and stop her”. What I’m saying is that she could have said “No” or even “maybe not” at any point if she sensed things were getting out of hand, but she didn’t. According to the extracts on Twitter or wherever, she egged him on and responded to him. Either she was just flirting, playing with his feelings or genuinely wanted to take the relationship further. But I’m sorry – I think she knew what she was doing and has to accept at least some of the responsibilty for what happened.

    • It is part of growing up to learn that actions have consequences and the girl in question is over the age of legal responsibility. Note their body language on the CCTV pictures: she is pulling him forward while he looks apprehensive, as well he might. To say this is not in any way to condone the actions of this particular teacher, who should have had the nous not to be so bloody idiotic. People who do get into this position with teenagers are not in the main, however, child-abusing monsters but immature individuals looking for somebody like themselves. Such people should not be teachers (or nurses) that much is clear but the irony is that many, with say a 2-2 (I don’t know this person’s academic qualifications), are pushed in that direction by university tutors; I don’t know that the average maths master is best known for his self-awareness. I have come across this many times professionally, both dealing with the girl (or boy) and with the man (or woman). The Twitter profile here is practically par for the course.

      This is a topic which will attract much knee-jerking both ways round and, I regret to say, ribaldry from predictable quarters. In my remarks above, I have deliberatedly kept it impersonal. The present case is a real, sub judice event that affects real, living people who the great majority if not all of us here do not know and are never likely to know.

      I too, have had such offers in the course of my professional life. One in particular many years ago sticks in my memory. A 14 year-old girl (with a rich, histrionic mother who had many ex-husbands, including my client’s father) in a residential school was having sessions with me to wean her off glue-sniffing. She told me she’d been thinking of the best way “to annoy my mother” and had decided it would be to become pregnant. She paused: “You wouldn’t like to do the job yourself, would you?” I shook my head. “No,” she said, “I thought not,” and tried to discuss who might be seduceable by her. I refused to enter into this line of discussion. My intuition not so much told me as yelled in my ear that this was attention-seeking behaviour and she had no intention whatever of becoming pregnant unless it was the only available way of gaining attention. I decided not to start a hue-and-cry. I was employed specifically for these kinds of knotty cases but had found that if I sought his guidance the headmaster would start going on about how little insurance the school carried (much like some present-day NHS managers). I had therefore made private arrangements for supervision and advice. Armed with this I left glue on one side for the moment, and asked for and got a ruling from the head that if anything was bugging her she could come and seem about it (a bullying problem had been emerging) which was to based on regular meetings. She returned home permanently at the end of term much happier than when she came. And she stopped sniffing glue quite spontaneously once she had somewhere to take her pain. Neither did she become pregnant or to the best of my knowledge and belief have an inappropriate sexual relationship with anybody. I’m not banging my drum here, anybody reasonably competent, empathic and assertive could have done the same. What she did not need, and did not get (unlike the present case) was somebody with the same problems as herself. Was I glad or sorry to see her go? Neither. I felt I had done what was expected of me and her chances for the future were better than they had been. What is the relevance of this to the present case? That on the television it was the girl’s mother and stepfather, not her father, who had appealed for her to get in touch. I shall now shut up and I hope (naive of me, I know) that the media will do the same.

  5. both parties clearly unhappy at home. The Hue and Cry has been ridiculous. I have compassion for both but do not think they are well suited.

  6. Well said and i completely agree with you.  People keep saying, shes 15, she knew what she was doing and she dressed like an adult…  I cant understand why they believe this makes what Jeremy did justifiable.  Yes many teenage girls dress like much older women and it’s all sanctioned by their parents and today’s society. But the reality of the situation is that even if they dress and flirt with older men and see themselves as older, they are still young girls/children (in Megan’s case – under the UK’s legal age of consent. The law is clear on this point) and as old as they want to be perceived they are still very much children and have to be aloud to grow. Dressing, looking, flirting and getting infatuated (a crush) with an older man (normally a teacher or pop star) is their way of experimenting and learning about themselves as the gradually develop into young women. 

    But none of the above can ever justify a teacher with a duty of care or any adult to follow through with any form of intimate relationship (sexual or not) or take a child out of the country without her parents consent. The thing that makes this worse is he was a teacher and her parents trusted him to do the right thing. As adults we have the ability to control our emotions and actions. Just because you want something doesn’t mean you can have it or that it’s right to have it.. We are all fully aware that teenagers will always think they know more than they do.. I am not trying to be patronising to teenagers but all adults have said/thought “if I knew then what I know now”. This is because we truly believed we did when we were young…

    All adults have a responsibility to protect young kids from themselves. Their inexperience can get them into trouble. He was the adult/her teacher and he should have stopped this regardless of his inappropriate feelings. His thrown away his career, his reputation and most likely his freedom.

    Everyone I have spoken to have different levels of feelings on this case but one thing everyone agrees on and we can’t get away from is, it was wrong of him, he was the adult, he should have stopped it and it’s not right that a 30 year old teacher was conducting any sort of intimate relationship with a 14, then 15 year old child.

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