I'm not usually given to talking about current affairs on this blog, preferring instead to mention how unusual my views on sex are and the stupid conversations I have with my friends, but I thought I may as well mention the Megan Stammers case that everyone's talking about. Fleet Street Fox has an astute post summing up a lot that could be said about varying attitudes to it, but there's still a few things I have to point out.
My parents are taking the view that I assumed them to take, which is that Jeremy Forrest (or "that married 30-year-old maths teacher") clearly had no idea what he was doing. "What did he think was going to happen?" is the exact phrase that my parents used. Well, I have no idea what he thought was going to happen, but he clearly knew what he was doing - he was running away to France with Megan Stammers. That's what he was doing. What my parents probably should be saying is, "Why did he do that?", but only he knows the answer to that. Nobody seems to be asking, "Why did she?"
This might be a controversial statement, but I'm going to say what I've been thinking about this case since it started: she didn't go "missing". She ran away. Okay, maybe it wasn't a clever thing to do, but we knew where she was going, we knew who she was with and we knew when it happened. We didn't know why she didn't come back (although there was a return ticket - and I think anyone could take a pretty accurate guess at why she didn't) and we didn't know exactly where they were, and that's why everything went a bit pear-shaped.
But why did they run away together? That's easy.
It was romantic. I don't know how they feel about each other; maybe they don't know either. Megan probably doesn't, as the age of 15 might not be exactly the best time to start declaring love for people - especially your teachers or people 15 years your senior. But love in your teens happens. I've seen it happen. A couple I know fell in love when they were 14 and are married now. I know, by association, a married couple who have been together since they were 12. And, what's more, it looks like a very romantic thing to do. Think about it - you're 15, you're in school, you're bored and you've got a hot youngish teacher. Getting into his car and running away from cold, rainy Britain to continental Europe seems, at first, to be a wonderful, spontaneous, romantic and crazy thing to do.
What's more, it is portrayed in various media - often in a positive light. I've read Point Romance books - one of which, French Kiss, actually has a storyline of a female teenage protagonist falling for a new French teacher at her school; they end up together, and she moves to France with him to start a new life together. It's illegal, but the author didn't seem to consider that. Moving to the more adult side of things, a lot of porn portrays student/teacher sexual relationships as well - often in a not-too-negative way. Even in softcore - there's an episode of Love Street which has a young tennis player having his sexual awakening via his female teacher - it seems to happen and there's nary a batted eyelid. If the media are going to put this message out there, then what exactly is going to happen?
What gets me about this case is that Jeremy Forrest is being accused of a lot of stuff that I don't think he did. Yes, it's illegal to have a relationship with one of your students. Yes, it's illegal to have sex with someone under the age of 16 (her one year less seems to have made a lot of differences in this case) - although it's 15 in France, and if they didn't have sex before they went to France (if at all) then there's no criminal offence there. It's immoral to cheat on your wife. It's also unlawful (although I'm not sure of the legality of it) to bunk off school, or to go to another country if you're under the age of 16. There's a lot of stuff there that shouldn't have been done.
I don't think for a moment that any of it should have happened.
But... abduction? The word that keeps being thrown around? It's not really abduction. There's no indication that he forced her. She went consensually. CCTV footage showing her in the passenger seat of his car and eyewitness reports of them holding hands on a street in Paris don't indicate, to me at least, that this was unwilling. It was a planned event and, although I've no idea what their aim actually was, I really can see the appeal.
So - yes, I'm sure it was upsetting for her family and friends to have her vanish on them. I can't imagine how this would feel for them. Jeremy Forrest's family don't appear to have been mentioned much and I can't find much about them online, but I'm sure they - not least of all his wife! - have their own feelings on this. And yes, I can see why he was arrested. But... Megan being put into protection? That seems a little extreme. I'm finding it hard to believe he was leading her into a paedophile ring or anything. She was 15, she went willingly, it must have been exciting and adventurous and, although it was a pretty dumb thing to do (as they would have been found eventually) I really can see why it happened.
It's not another Madeleine McCann; it's completely different... and, although I won't deny that there were a lot of things that happened here that probably shouldn't have, maybe people should start focusing on how Megan and Jeremy might re-integrate into society once they return to Britain. Because there's more or less going to be an immediate stigma.
Also, what if they were in love? Stranger things have happened.