I am writing at the risk of adding yet more verbiage to the reporting on the latest unbelievable ignorance by a member of the judiciary. I am of course talking about Judge Greenberg in her summing up of the trial of Stuart Kerner for having a sexual relationship with a 15/16 year old girl pupil. Stunningly the judge admitted she did not really know if it was the right word to use as she suggested the girl had ‘groomed’ Mr Kerner. It wasn’t the right word to use and now, fortunately, she will be subject to an inquiry.
But let’s take a step back and consider the aspects of the case that are publicly known along with what we know about child and adolescent development and normal human behaviour.
The girl was 15/16. An adolescent. It is normal for young people of this age to be developing their sexual identity. It is normal for young people of this age to develop a ‘crush’ or ‘infatuation’ with one or more of the hopefully ‘safe’ adults in their lives (same or opposite sex), often at a ‘safe’ distance in the form of a pop star or football player, etc. It is even normal for young girls to experiment with flirting with (heaven forbid) their dads, older brothers, uncles, teachers. It’s a part of growing up. It is not normal for those adults to respond by getting into a sexual relationship with that child/young person.
It is quite possible this schoolgirl thought she was in love with her teacher and acted in a way that let him know of her attraction towards him. Assuming he is a normal male he would have felt flattered by the attention and sexual interest of a younger person.
But he was also a professional in a position of responsibility. Another of those relational facts of life is that some (many?) women find men in a position of responsibility attractive. Films such as An Officer and a Gentleman help illustrate this idea but there are plenty of everyday vicars and doctors and surgeons and police officers and therapists, as well as teachers, who have to deal with the attentions of vulnerable people who are attracted to them because of their position and role in society. That’s why these professions have codes of conduct.
Mr Kerner should not have succumbed to the flattery of the attention of a young girl. He should have recognised his responsibility towards her as a pupil. His own emotional vulnerability while his wife was pregnant should never have come into it. As a teacher concerned about a pupil’s behaviour and attentions he should have spoken to another, more senior, member of staff in confidence according to his school’s procedures. He and his seniors would need to acknowledge that in a tiny percentage of cases the girl could have made a false allegation against him for denying her advances. They should have worked together to support the girl and ensure that everyone was appropriately protected from an inappropriate relationship. Clearly that didn’t happen.
This young woman, now 19, should be able to sit down with her friends and giggle over a glass of wine about the time she had a crush on the RE teacher, old Mr Kerner. Instead she has to face the memory that he took her virginity in a cleaning cupboard and that some nutty old judge turned around and blamed her for it.
All heterosexual references above can equally apply to same sex relationships.