I make the point because public attitudes reveal that sexual activity between women and children is sometimes not recognised as criminal abuse with comments on social media often looking to mock the seriousness of the crimes that have been committed.
When the crimes involve teachers, comments claim that the child was “lucky” to have such a teacher, that they would be “bragging” if they had been the child and even question why a pupil would have raised a complaint.
Not only does this miss the crucial point that an adult in a position of trust has chosen to sexually assault a child, but it also downplays the impact of the abuse on that child.
Consider this comment which was a cause for concern just five years ago:
"You engaged in a full-blown sexual relationship with a 15-year-old child. I accept he was consenting – what 15-year-old schoolboy would turn down such an attractive offer?"
This comment was reportedly made by a female judge when sentencing Alice McBrearty
, a former teacher at an East London school, in 2017 to 16 months in prison for seven counts of sexual activity with a child.
It exemplifies the confusion that society displays in its response to women who sexually abuse children.
The concern is that making light of the offence perpetuates the lie that it is not serious, fails to acknowledge its psychological impact on a child and may in turn prevent other abuse victims from disclosing their own abuse.
In turn this means that the true number of female abuse survivors may be significantly higher than those who have currently disclosed their abuse.
There is also the issue that such comments are unlikely to be made if a male had been the abuser.
The reason why there is a law stating the age of consent for sexual activity and also laws in place for those in positions of trust is because of the inherent power balance involved between adults and their child victims, and the need for full capacity to enter into a sexual activity.
As a society we appreciate that those under 16 years old are unable to enter into sexual acts for these reasons but we are also more aware now of the power held by adults in positions of trust such as teachers and that is why there are specific criminal offences preventing teachers and others from having any sexual relations with under 18 year olds who are in their care.
Abusers often take their time to manipulate and groom their victims and this affects any premise where a child may have appeared to consent in fact to a sexual act (and regardless they are unable to consent in law).
It is also this manipulation that makes victims feel they are to blame for the abuse taking place and the accompanying shame and embarrassment often prevents them from disclosing the abuse for decades, if at all.
Instances of women convicted of the sexual abuse of children in the past few years are as follows:
- Rebecca Williams, former teaching assistant for a school in North Wales, was sentenced in 2022 to a 12-month suspended prison sentence after having sexual intercourse with a boy on two occasions.
- Carly Dear, former PE teacher at Maidstone Grammar School for Girls, was sentenced in 2022 to five years in prison for six counts of sexual abuse, four counts of indecent assault, one count of abusing a position of trust and inciting sexual activity with a girl.
- Erin Hebblewhite, former PE teacher at Connaught School for Girls, was sentenced in 2021 to two years in prison for four counts of sexual activity with a child and one count of sexual activity in the presence of a teenager.
- Aimee Jones, former maths teacher at a Darlington school was sentenced in 2021 to eight months in prison for four counts of abusing a position of trust by engaging in sexual activity with a girl.
- Fatinoh Hossain, former teacher at a West Sussex school, was sentenced in 2021 to five years and four months in prison for one count of sexual activity with a boy while in a position of trust and one count of perverting the course of justice.
- Lauren Cox, former teacher for a school in Orpington, was sentenced in 2016 to 12 months in prison for five counts of sexual activity with a child.