Last week a 23-year-old female teacher from a Dublin school was jailed for having sexual relations with one of her male pupils, an offence which occurred on his 16th birthday.
The teacher, who has not been named, pleaded that she thought 16 was the age of consent. It is, in the UK: but in Ireland, it’s 17. You’d have thought that a teacher – someone in daily contact with adolescents – would be aware of that basic fact. Apparently, the 16-year-old lad developed acute anxiety and depression after the episode.
The teacher had booked a hotel room, and plied the lad with a dinner a deux before sexual relations took place. She was given a custodial jail sentence, has been banned from teaching and will be listed on the sex offenders’ register.
Traditionally, the seduction of a young male by an older female has seldom been treated as seriously as seduction by an older male of a younger female (or same-sex seduction in either case). Partly, this was because a girl was at risk of becoming pregnant, while a boy was not.
Also, historically, young girls might lose their reputation after such an encounter, whereas young males might even boast of such encounters.
But that is now seen as a ‘double standard’, and women who are convicted of sexual abuse must face the same penalties as men. The #MeToo movement joins up with gender equality.
And yet, while the teacher certainly did something morally and legally wrong, I also feel sorry for her. A jail sentence, the loss of her profession forever, and being permanently on the sex offenders’ register is something that will follow her for the rest of her life. She is paying a heavy penalty for her offence: while this may be right, in justice, and a deterrent to others, it is still a lifelong sentence. The public may not know her name, but she will always be aware of the offence.
And we do live in a very sexualised culture. The very fact that the teacher thought it was somehow acceptable to have intercourse with an adolescent the moment he passed the age of consent shows how casually the act is portrayed.
Teachers are regarded as being in a special position of trust and authority, so any close relationship between student and teacher is always sensitive ground. And yet, consider the case of President Emmanuel Macron of France and his wife Brigitte. According to Sylvia Bommel’s biography Il Venait D’avoir Dix-sept Ans (He had just turned 17), Emmanuel was 16 years of age when he first met Brigitte, who was 24 years older, married, with three children.
The relationship was probably not, according to Ms Bommel, consummated at that stage, but there was a tender bond, which eventually led to them being lovers.
The Irish teacher was described in court as ‘naïve’, and I think a naïve person could assume, from the messages everywhere relayed in the culture, that once the age of consent birthday was past, anything goes.
There’s a time and place for applause
The outgoing speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, had quite a following in Ireland, with jokesters imitating his orotund “Order, order!” calls (and a successful appearance on the Late Late Show with Ryan Tubridy, where he duly performed his ‘voices’). He was also a renowned anti-Brexiteer – he was seen driving a family car carrying the slogan ‘B******s to Brexit’.
Now Mr Bercow has been followed by Sir Lindsay Hoyle [pictured], whose voice is more folksey Lancastrian than theatrically stentorian. Sir Lindsey has vowed to put a stop to the growing practice of applause in the chamber – it risks making parliament into a pantomime ‘turn’.
I wonder if the Hoyle principle could also be applied to practice in church? My late husband walked out of any church where the congregation started clapping. I don’t object to it every now and again, for a special occasion, but it becomes distinctly show-biz with repetition.