[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.