This week the nightmare of one family has been played out in our newspapers and on TV. A 15 year old girl’s mother and stepfather have been shown distaught as grainy CCTVV footage shows her hand in hand with Jeremy Forrest, 30.
This is an ongoing story but as I write this it appears the affair began several months ago and the girl’s school was aware. A few days ago the Police interviewed Mr Forrest who was married. It is this which appears to have pushed the couple to go on the run crossing to France. Police there admit there have been no sightings of the pair, who could be anywhere in Europe by now.
So could anyone have stopped this from happening? Will this girl return? And is too much fuss being made of this couple? Peoples’ opinions seem to be divided into two camps. On the one hand she is underage. Although we cannot possibly presume they have slept together, she is a vulnerable minor. She might feel grown up but in the eyes of the UK law she is still a child. As her teacher Mr Forrest was also in a position of trust and whatever he felt for her, many would say in pursuing her, he has abused that position. The law is also quite clear: It is an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 for a person over 18 to have a sexual relationship with a child under 18 where that person is in a position of trust in respect of that child, even if the relationship is consensual. That applies where the child is in full-time education and the person works in the same place as the child, even if the person does not teach the child. And Mr Forrest is also married – what about his wife? It has to be said for most men the fact a girl they liked turns out to be underage would be a big turn off.
However, looking at this from a different perspective, she is almost at the age of consent (and the age of consent in France is 15, Germany it is 14 for example) and by all accounts Mr Forrest is a mild-mannered man. Certainly on the videos of him strumming a guitar and singing, he also comes over as much younger than the age of 30 (which isn’t exactly 50 or 60…). Far from secretly ‘grooming’ a ‘victim’, he actually seems to have been fairly open about his affections for this girl – other pupils report seeing the pair holding hands months before. And she has hardly been kidnapped or dragged screaming and kicking against her will. French Police are apparently not actively looking for the couple because in French law they have done nothing wrong. The press there has taken a more romantic view, describing the pair as ‘lovers’. Added to that if she were 16 – which she will be soon – would there be so much of an issue?
As a parent myself (with a daughter aged 21 who chooses to still live at home), I can’t help thinking worse things can happen in life. Yes, I know some people reading this might be not agree – for them this would be the worst thing – and of course this is a nightmare for those parents. No parent wants their 15 year old daughter to run away, not knowing if you will ever see that person again. But the bottom line is this young girl has not died or been murdered. She has not been diagnosed with a serious illness or become involved in a life-changing accident on a school trip. She is also 15 and not a five year old being terrifyingly ‘abducted’ by a man.
Tragically, worst stories involving underage girls happen all the time. Hundreds of vulnerable young people run away from home every year. Many of these are in already in care. Hundreds of women from different cultures are forced against their will at much younger ages into marriages with men five times their age. At Featureworld we have covered hundreds of such stories (read Terrie O’Brian’s story who was made pregnant at the age of 13 while in care). We have spoken to many many people who are in age gap relationships and many have been successful (read my 18 year old son ran off with my best friend.) The truth is an age gap of 15 years would rarely be extreme enough to make a story in any UK magazine these days.
Some seem keen to blame the Police and the school. But they were investigating and do seem to have done all the right things. I would guess authorities tried to take a softly softly approach – to avoid this very thing from happening. They probably hoped it would all blow over – that would surely have been the best outcome for this young girl. Mr Forrest could then have been disciplined appropriately. But the last thing you want is for a couple to go on the run like this. The girl’s mother says she has a close relationship with her daughter but did she really? Ideally your daughter can and does tell you everything – even things you might not want to know. But rather than judge or tell them they are too young to feel as they do, it’s best to stay on side and listen. The problem is making a great big deal out of something is very likely to result in your child not confiding in you at all. And the first chance they get to leave home, they will do. Going nuts about a boyfriend will generally result in pushing them closer together – ‘them against the world’ can be very exciting for a teenager. However, dealt with in the right way (with you keeping the communications between you open all the time) your daughter is likely to decide for herself that the relationship you’re unhappy about isn’t right for her anyway.
It’s also important to realise people feel very strongly at the age of 15. Ignore these feelings or put them down by saying something such as ‘you’re too young to be in love’ at your peril.
Hopefully all will turn out fine and the fact this young girl’s personal life has turned into such a huge story without her consent won’t put her off coming back home for good.
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