[Trigger warning: this post contains some detail of a highly disturbing case of sexual abuse]
Bertrand Blier’s 1978 film Préparez vos mouchoirs centres around a couple, Raoul (played by Gerard Depardieu) and Solange (played by Carol Laure), and their friend Stéphane (Patrick Dewaere). Solange is a depressed woman, which is thought to relate to her not being a mother, and Raoul introduces Stéphane into her life in the hope he might succeed in impregnating her. Solange tires of both Raoul and Stéphane (who Depardieu and Dewaere play similarly to the characters they play in Blier’s earlier 1974 film Les valseuses) and fixates upon a 13-year old boy from a camp where she works, Christian. Christian, a maths prodigy, is being bullied for this reason by the other children (as in one memorable scene in which they all throw and coat him with Petits Suisses); Solange is shown as offering him care, love and recognition such as he lacks from the other children. After she lets Christian sleep in her bed, eventually Solange allows him to have sex with her, and ultimately he impregnates her.
This is all portrayed in a manner very favourably to Solange, when actually her behaviour in some respects resembles that of disgraced former head teacher and chief executive of Durham Federation Anne Lakey, who was sentenced to eight years imprisonment today for sexually abusing two boys, one aged 13-14 at the time, the other 15; police have suggested there could also be further victims.
The case was utterly horrible in other ways: Lakey enjoyed humiliating one of the boys by making him sit on her knee in front of other boys and speak with a squeaking voice to imitate Orville the duck. She invited the 13/14-year old boy to fondle her breasts (‘daring’ him to do so). After inviting him to see her in the bath, she removed a towel and lay completely naked beside him (he was wearing his school uniform), calling to him with a clear signal to have sex with her. She called him her ‘baby’ whilst he was to call her ‘Mommy’. The boy was made to hide in the wardrobe when her husband returned home, whilst she would phone his school pretending to be his mother to explain why he was absent, during sexual sessions with her. Lakey’s then-husband, who was besotted with her, provided a statement which was read out in court. He nearly caught her with the boy and likely suspected what was happening, and was heartbroken as he found she no longer wished to have sex with him and then told him that their marriage was at an end. No contraception was used when Lakey abused the boy, and when he asked to end sexual relations, she turned hostile, in particular imploring him not to tell anyone. Lakey first abused the other boy on a school camping trip, setting up a separate tent from her husband, who she banned from her own, and inviting the boy in to have sexual intercourse with her; they later had another ‘relationship’ when he was 18. He broke this off when he saw her with someone else and felt himself to be redundant.
I never want to gloat or celebrate when someone is imprisoned for a long period – this is an unfortunate necessity, not a cause for celebration. Nor do I wish to join in some of the choruses of hateful vitriol directed at Lakey (though would not judge those who themselves suffered for thinking and expressing themselves in this way), some of it specific to her gender – and I feel the same way about male abusers and hatred towards men resulting from this.
This case appears to have been treated properly by the police and the justice service, and I hope the victims are able to feel some closure, though police have suggested there may be others. What has bothered me, however, are some of the ways in which it has been reported, not to mention many comments to be found underneath articles online.
The description of Lakey ‘seducing’ the boys appears to have been used in court, but is no more appropriate as a result. Seduction is a beautiful term and concept, denoting subtle and artful sexual persuasion of someone fully in a position to make choices, not coercion in any sense. This is completely inapplicable when that latter person is a child, and as such not of an age or emotional maturity to be deemed capable of granting consent – and this is just as true of a boy as of a girl. But this term was used by the Telegraph, Guardian, Independent, Mail, Express, Mirror, New York Daily News, and many other papers. Furthermore, sub-editors at the Mail and Express were happy to lead with Lakey’s crime being to ‘take the virginity’ of these boys (a description I have never once encountered in reporting of the abuse of a girl).
All of this fits a depressingly familiar set of stereotypes which are applied in cases of an adult female sexually abusing a teenage boy. Teenage boys are often thought to be sex-crazed monsters driven by nothing but hormones, mostly to be viewed as a threat to girls and society as a whole, rather than vulnerable children going through an intensely difficult and sensitive time in life. The teachers are seen as Solange- or Mrs Robinson-like figures who make the boys’ dreams come true, giving them the early sexual opportunities they crave, for which they should count themselves lucky. Clinical psychologist Jacquie Hetherton, quoted in this sensitive article in the Telegraph, speaks of how society tends not to view this sort of abuse as harmful, especially not when the teacher is relatively young (as many female teacher abusers are) and attractive, with many others confirming the abuser’s view of this as an ‘affair’, a mutually beneficial romance, when in reality it is anything but that.
One of Lakey’s victims has spoken further since her conviction and sentencing of how colleagues with whom he wished to confide would just mock him, calling him ‘lucky’, and felt a good deal of shame himself at supposedly allowing this to happen (a common response amongst abuse victims, though in no sense was what happened their responsibility), which at the time he thought was ‘great’. To go through this trial, knowing the ridicule he would feel and see written afterwards (despite being anonymous) would have been a major trial of strength. In 2012, he received a phone call out of the blue from Lakey, having not heard from her for over 20 years, which he described as like ‘Psychology 101’, using manipulative emotional blackmail by telling him about ‘My poor father, lost my mother’, ‘my career, my daughter, my husband’, and how ‘I’ve definitely not had sex with any other children since’, trying to persuade him to lie to the police.
I remember as a teenager fantasising about sexual scenarios with some female teachers; I would imagine many other boys did the same. If those fantasies had become a reality, I might at the time have felt lucky and very special – just as at the time some teenage girls who are victims of abusers and groomers are made to feel they are the special ones (like the crème de la crème of Miss Jean Brodie, a parallel suggested well by Alison Moncrieff-Kelly in this excellent article). One of the victims of Lakey . I know of another case of a boy who ‘got off with’ (i.e. was sexually exploited by) a woman in a position of care over him in a school environment, was thought to be the coolest of boys for this, but also know that the consequences upon the rest of his life and relationships have been utterly devastating.
Yet those who suffered in this way rarely get much sympathy, nor even do female victims of female abusers – I have written elsewhere about the case of trumpet teacher Helen Goddard, who abused a girl aged 13-15 at the City of London School for Girls (scroll down towards the end of this long post for this section). Rachel Porter of the Mail was more concerned about Goddard being heartbroken through separation from the girl, while Victoria Coren in the Observer treated it like a harmless romp, making Goddard into the real victim. Germaine Greer wrote a sickening apologia for this (and has written other comparable apologias elsewhere); elsewhere the Guardian had little problem with relating tales of other same-sex sexual encounters between teachers and underage girls as if they were a natural stage of sexual development. Other feminists as well as Greer have offered support for forms of paedophilia, and more widely there is plenty reason to think that the plight of young boys is of little concern to many, including some Labour politicians.
I do not think the fact that Lakey’s three husbands have all been younger than her to be of any consequence, as they were all over the age of consent at the time, and she does not appear to have been in a position of care over them at the beginning of their sexual relationships (though there are inevitable questions to be asked about how she met her current husband, who was 18 at the time, when she was 34). Age differences, choices of types of partners, sexual practices or type of relationship (perhaps ‘open’) are no-one’s business except the individuals involved other than when any party is underage, any activity is non-consensual, or there is an abuse of a position of trust in a school environment such as is now criminalised under the 2003 Sexual Offences Act.
Anne Lakey did not ‘seduce’ or ‘take the virginity’ of a 13-year old boy – to describe her actions in these terms is as offensive and demeaning as it would be if they were used for an adult male teacher who abused a 13-year old girl. Female teachers who sexually exploit male pupils are not seductive temptresses helping to initiate boys into a wondrous world of sexual freedom. Those self-serving fictions may serve to make the likes of Lakey (or the fictional Solange) think that what they are doing is harmless, even perhaps positive for the boys concerned, but that is a callous, narcissistic and dangerous view. Teenage boys should never be prey for teachers, but should be able to feel safe, respected and cared about.
Below is an interview with Michelle Elliott, who has done important research into female abusers, and received a good deal of hostility as a result. The sexual abuse and exploitation of children should be treated in a gender-neutral fashion; female abusers are no better or worse than male ones simply on account of their gender, each case needs to be viewed separately (the same applies in terms of ethnicity, nationality or sexuality). There appear to be a good deal more female abusers than is often realised; all statistics suggest the number to be smaller than male abusers, but very significant nonetheless. Male abusers are a small minority of men, female abusers a smaller minority of women, but neither statistic is likely to offer any comfort to their victims. I do believe the vast majority of men to be utterly appalled by other men exploiting children; I only ask that we do not assume that it is any less bad when women do the same.
In an earlier post I drew attention to the justifications for sexual abuse of children provided by Germaine Greer, in particular in the case of Helen Goddard, convicted abuser who taught at City of London School for Girls. I have just come across a quote from considerably earlier, from a 33-year old Greer. Clearly this type of view has been consistent throughout her career; I believe all of her writings and work in other media should be more closely scrutinised in light of this.
One woman I know enjoyed sex with an uncle all through her childhood, and never realized that anything unusual was toward until she went away to school. What disturbed her then was not what her uncle had done but the attitude of her teachers and the school psychiatrist. They assumed that she must have been traumatized and disgusted and therefore in need of very special help. In order to capitulate to their expectations, she began to fake symptoms that she did not feel, until at length she began to feel truly guilty about not having been guilty. She ended up judging herself very harshly for this innate lechery.
Germaine Greer, ‘Seduction is a Four-Letter Word’, Playboy (January 1972), p. 82, cited in Richard Parson, Birthrights (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), p. 151.
It is not surprising that Tom O’Carroll, former chair of the Paedophile Information Exchange, should have been so enamoured of Greer (see his comments on her in ‘Is PIE Sexist?’, Magpie 12 (December 1978)) , and continued to enthusiastically report her support for Harriet Harman and NCCL this year; according to O’Carroll Greer argued on Any Questions? ‘that the age of consent issue was not just about paedophiles but about young people’s right to a sexual life, which was why she and others had supported changing the law’.
Michelle Elliott, researcher into sexual abuse committed by women, in the interview below (from about 9’25”) quotes Greer’s comment to her ‘Well, if it is a woman having sex with a young teenage boy, i.e. 13 or 14-year-old, and he gets an erection, then clearly it’s his responsibility’.
The following article was written by Germaine Greer following the jailing for 15 months of Helen Goddard, a trumpet teacher at City of London School for Girls, for the sexual abuse of a girl who she had groomed and exploited between the ages of 13 and 15, followed by another anonymous article which was printed alongside it. Greer is also the author of a pederastic book The Boy (London: Thames & Hudson, 2003), and once proudly told the Sydney Morning Herald that ‘A woman of taste is a pederast – boys rather than men’ (see Greer in interview with Andrew Denton, September 15th, 2003).
I leave it for people to arrive at their own conclusions.
The Times (London)
September 23rd, 2009
‘Jazz Lady’s affair was foolish not evil; Falling for a minor is not evidence of perversion or vileness, says Germaine Greer’
Once upon a time I met a 35-year-old woman who told me that, when she was still very young, she destroyed her life. She was a precocious, lonely little girl living in a very small and isolated community. Her best, indeed, her only friend was her young uncle. They spent far too much time together unsupervised and gradually their relationship became intimate.
When it was time for her to go away to boarding school, she missed her uncle so much that she cried herself to sleep every night. A friend begged to know why she was crying and eventually she told her. The friend told a teacher, the teacher told the head. The police and the care workers rushed in and for months she was pressured, day-in day-out, to admit that her uncle had abused her. As long as she refused to incriminate him, she was treated as if she was both mad and bad. At last, during yet another interminable interview from yet another child care professional, she broke down and said what they wanted to hear.
Her uncle was arrested, vilified and found guilty of a slew of heinous crimes and jailed for many years. She never forgave herself.
He was the love of her life and she betrayed him. That is her story as she told it to me. Her whole life had been corroded by guilt. Self-esteem was beyond her reach.
So how old was she? How old was he? I don’t know and I don’t very much care. I know I’m supposed to care. I’m supposed to think that falling in love with people under the legal age of consent is evidence of deep perversion and vileness, but I don’t.
Young people shouldn’t fall in love, you wish they wouldn’t, and yet they do, very often with someone rather older than they. The results are nearly always catastrophic, whether the love is returned or denied. When an old friend of mine was still a schoolboy, he climbed into the bed of his guardian, who he adored. His appalled guardian threw him out of the house. He swallowed rat-poison.
I’m not supposed to talk about Helen Goddard’s victim as her lover. She’s not supposed to be capable of being anybody’s lover. She’s still not 16. She has tried to take the blame, she had admitted that it was she who first kissed Goddard, but it makes no odds. As a 15-year-old she was incapable of consent, let alone of seduction.
In Shakespeare’s play of star-crossed love, we are told repeatedly that Juliet is 14. We don’t know how old Romeo is. There’s nothing to say he isn’t 27, like Helen Goddard.
Yet it is Juliet who instigates the affair and precipitates the clandestine marriage and its consummation. And as for deceiving one’s parents, you can’t go a wholer hog than Juliet did. In a sane society lovers are protected from mutual self-immolation; in a crazy one they are driven to it.
Judge Anthony Pitt’s pronouncements about the Goddard case are contradictory, as well he knows. “This case is so serious an immediate sentence of imprisonment is inevitable,” he said. He also said that a fiveyear ban on Goddard meeting her lover would be “draconian”, “unnecessary, unkind and cruel to the victim”. Goddard will be allowed to write to her from prison and they will be allowed to meet once she is released.
It looks very much as if the judge believes that the unnamed victim is capable of love, and that separation from Goddard, the criminal who abused her, will cause more pain to her than to Goddard. Some would say the judge is being sexist, and believes, perhaps, that being seduced by a woman is less damaging to a child than being seduced by a man. The child in question is capable of becoming pregnant, so sex with a man is far more dangerous for her than sex with a woman, sex toys and fluffy handcuffs notwithstanding. There is, after all, a difference.
The parents of Goddard’s lover are bitter. “Miss Goddard did not stay true to her professional responsibilities, which include taking full responsibility for any personal feelings that may have arisen. Our teenage girl has been led to believe by Miss Goddard that their contact is within the bounds of a normal relationship, apart from the fact that our daughter is under age.” All true. And yet you wonder just what force that word “normal” has. Are they saying their daughter would have remained heterosexual if only she hadn’t succumbed to the charm of the Jazz Lady? The same could as fairly be said of the Jazz Lady herself. Goddard had never had a relationship with a female before she fell in love with a schoolgirl; the schoolgirl had never had a sexual relationship with anybody.
The younger woman is the likelier to grow out of her teenage feelings. The truth of her parents’ claim that because of Goddard’s actions, “she has been deprived of the opportunity for the normal [that word again] development of sexual relations” remains to be seen. Goddard might find herself, besides being disgraced and stigmatised for ever, dumped for a man.
The blogs are a-throb with people asserting that a man who had had a relationship with a pupil would have been more harshly treated than Goddard. Brett Meads, of Peterborough, for example, is facing a lengthy jail term. This 28-year-old teacher has admitted nine sex offences involving three girl pupils aged 15 and 16. This was not love: this was predation. I do not expect to hear the three girls claiming that they seduced him, nor do I expect to hear that they are writing to him in prison. The situations are different, not because the offenders are of different sexes, but because the nature of the interaction is fundamentally different. In 2007, a science teacher at Headlands School, Bridlington, was sentenced to four years and nine months for having sex with three pupils, not a lot more than 15 months per victim.
It seems that all the girls in her classes adored Goddard, but only one got close to her, disastrously for Goddard. She was foolish, and she broke the law, but she is not dangerous. Unless of course her fellow prisoners fall in love with her too. I hope the authorities let her have her trumpet.
‘My lesbian fling with a teacher’
I was 15, a pupil at a co-ed public school in Surrey, when the affair happened. I had an inkling I was gay, but would never have labelled myself as such. I just knew this particular teacher was – she had the classic butch lesbian look. I didn’t find her sexy ,she wasn’t, but I became obsessed with her and desperately wanted to do something about the way I felt about women.
I approached her after a few months. She was shocked and said: “You do realise I am a woman?” Of course, I said. “So you’re gay?” she asked. I said I didn’t know but that I had a crush on her. She asked me how old I was. I said 18, although it was obvious I wasn’t. She was 32.
I asked for her phone number and she gave it to me. A few days later she told me she knew I wasn’t 18. Then she bought me a mobile phone as she couldn’t ring me at my family’s home. The affair began three weeks later. We would spend time in her car. We sometimes met at her sister’s house. The affair went on for 15 months. My only concern was my family finding out, which they didn’t. Neither did the school.
I do think it was an abuse of trust to an extent. She was manipulative and threatened to kill herself when I tried to end it. She claimed she had cancer. It was very damaging. The flipside was I was doing what I wanted to do – I was having gay sex and I enjoyed it in the way straight girlfriends told me they liked having sex with boys . But I wasn’t in control. At one stage she threatened to use a note I had written to out me, and she threatened to tell my parents.
The relationship helped me to realise I was gay, but the lies and games disturb me even now.
I think that Helen Goddard should have been reprimanded, but that harshly? Surely the question is: what was the girl like and what did she want? Was she timid, or like me, did she know what she wanted and go after it?