Back in my early teenage years I had this intense desire to become a singer. This lead onto singing lessons and my taking a GCSE in music (which I couldn’t complete due to my health). I had two teachers who worked with me on my voice. One was a guy who looked like Pike from Dad’s Army, and the other was a woman. She had red flowing hair down to her waist, and alabaster skin. She looked like a pre-Raphaelite painting. Over the course of our lessons I developed a crush on this teacher. Occasionally we would sneak out after class together and have a cigarette, and she had a tendency to treat me more as a peer than as a student. It made me feel so special and grown up. I didn’t know anyone else who had such a close relationship with this woman whom I entirely idolised. I’m glad to say that, though inappropriate, this was as far as our relationship went. When I think back to my school years I find it difficult to remember any girl friend of mine who didn’t have a crush on an older person. I tell you this story only to offer a glimpse into the mind of a teenage girl, hopelessly smitten with a teacher.
Today a judge, sentencing in the case of a teacher who had a sexual relationship with a teenage pupil, placed all of the onus for this relationship upon the pupil. The judge stated, “If grooming is the right word to use, it was she who groomed you, (and) you gave in to temptation.” This was a 16 year old girl, who had an entirely normal, if persistent, crush on a 40 something year old man in a position of responsibility. This man’s wife had had a miscarriage the day he took this young girl’s virginity on the school grounds. This man took blankets and condoms to the school. This man took this pupil to his home where he had sex with her. This man took a normal teenage girl’s crush upon a teacher and exploited it entirely, yet the judge felt the need to describe this child as “intelligent and manipulative”, despite acknowledging that she was a particularly vulnerable child, and identified the perpetrator as “emotionally fragile”. The semantic fields here are revolting. The perpetrator is emotional, fragile, gave in to temptation; thus he is painted as submissive. Meanwhile the child he chose to have sex with is a stalker, a groomer, manipulative and intelligent. All of which paint her as the aggressor. Despite the guilty verdict being handed to this man, the judge has created a situation whereby she describes the man who chose to sexually exploit a child as a victim, whilst the child who was exploited is described as a villain.
This gives us an important glimpse into rape culture. I’ve spoken before about how I was blamed for being raped. Three times I was blamed- it was my fault for having dinner alone with a male friend, it was my fault for not taking a rape alarm into a private property, it was my fault for being alone with a black man ( the last being from my racist ex husband). Other people I know have been blamed for equally tenuous reasons- what they were wearing, which taxi they climbed into, what they had to drink, where they worked. I’ve known of looked after children (children in care) who have been sexually exploited by grown men, yet the system has turned a blind eye to it because “that’s what those girls are like”. I’ve also seen rape and sexual exploitation ignored because of where people are from, and how they spoke. On the one hand, we have a gendered acceptance of sexual assault- with the premise that men are incapable of controlling their sexual urges and that women are the gate keepers of this. Then on the other, we have these terrible classist notions. In the above case the girl’s “troubled past” was noted. This is a classic example of this notion of the “chav” or “little slags”. The moment a victim can be identified as troubled, sympathy for them diminishes because then they no longer neatly fit the archetype of the “perfect victim”.
This archetype dictates that the perfect victim be a girl, white, middle class, virginal, young, cis, and straight. She is a “good girl” from a “good home”. Studies have shown that such victims generate more column inches and with more onus placed upon the perpetrator’s actions, with little information regarding the victim’s clothes, alcohol intake, sexual history etc. The name of the study escapes me, but if I can find it I will link to it later, but one study compared the media attention given to a white girl abductee and two black girls who were abducted. The two black girls together didn’t receive half of the media attention (nor police hours) the white girl did. We can see this same pattern regarding class with the media reaction to Karen Matthews and Kate McCann. Though obviously we now know the outcome of the Matthews’ case, it is still worth noting the way in which the media initially reported the case, with far more intense speculation being placed upon the general lifestyle of Matthews. Her class immediately set up the media in opposition to her.
The composition of our society means that we construct victims and villains along gendered, racial and class lines. These constructs feed into the way in which victims are treated in greater society, within the media and within the justice system. Facts rarely get in the way of the negative opinions of those who come from oppressed groups. This leads us to the point where the eventual victims and villains we are presented with, by the media and the judiciary, are often a poor reflection of reality. It would be nice to be able to be shocked by the judge’s comments regarding this young girl, but this is not the first time children have been victim blamed (as we can see in the case of childhood sexual assault in various children’s homes, and in the Rotherham grooming cases), and I am certain it will not be the last.