Claire Black: Forrest had a position of trust and he abused it

Claire Black
Claire Black
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DISCUSSIONS about ethics can be tricky, I know. It’s often about navigating shades of grey rather than effortlessly plumping for black or white.

Until it’s not, of course, and the subtleties perceived by others can leave you feeling discombobulated by your own sense of the obvious.

Watching the unfolding reaction to the guilty verdict handed down to Jeremy Forrest, the 30-year-old maths teacher who was jailed for five-and-a-half years for abducting a 15-year-old pupil to France last September, I was reminded of a perplexing conversation I had recently. It was about whether it was ever acceptable for a therapist to sleep with their client. It was a debate which for me was painted in clear, incontrovertible monotones: no, it is never acceptable.

A therapist is in a position of authority in relation to a client, who is vulnerable, whether they perceive that or not, and therefore any sexual relationship is a very bad idea. Not everyone agreed. The argument for the other side was along the lines of what if the two individuals started a sexual relationship while therapist and client and then when no longer client and therapist (presumably because pitchfork-wielding people like me had split them up) rekindled their relationship and went on to get married and live happily ever after? My answer was, that makes no difference whatsoever. For me, there was no debate.

I feel the same about Forrest. Those unhappy with the sentence given complain that the girl, who after all was only a year shy of the age of consent when the sexual relationship started, was “willing” – she said so in court – so all Forrest did was succumb to her advances. Mouthing “I love you” across the court room to the girl and offering no testimony throughout his trial, Forrest did little to dispel the idea of the pair as star-crossed lovers.

But the eight men and four women of the jury plainly didn’t struggle with the complexity of the case. It took them two hours to deliver their guilty verdict. And child protection professionals are equally clear. Forrest was a teacher, he occupied a position of trust and he abused it. The girl may still believe that she is in love with Forrest and she may still believe that she took the lead in their relationship, but she was known to be vulnerable at the time the sexual contact between them started and Forrest might, reasonably in my opinion, be seen to have chosen the girl because he recognised this. No matter which way you slice it, he exploited her.

It doesn’t matter if the young person is 15 or 10, it doesn’t matter if they’re a boy or a girl, it’s about the abuse of trust. A teacher is in a position where if a young person has a crush on them they know not to respond and can sustain that response. Anything else is criminal. It’s that simple.

OK, I am slightly breaking the rules here but my reasons are good. This is not the film column, I know this, but do you realise that right now, today and tomorrow and the next day, in cinemas near you, the final instalment of a 20-year love story is playing out? Celine and Jesse are… well, I’m not going to say what they are because there will be no spoilers here.

My only wish is to convey a heartfelt recommendation that you go to see Before Midnight. If you haven’t seen either of the first two parts, Before Sunset and Before Sunrise, of Richard Linklater’s trilogy then two things occur to me: firstly, you’ve no idea what I’m talking about and secondly, you’ve no idea what a treat you have in store for you. These are cinematic gems, filmed at intervals of nine years. Special.

I know 20-something internet billionaires are difficult to like, but I confess to a fondness for David Karp.

He’s the boy (yes, I’m being patronising, he’s 26) who created Tumblr and then sold it last month to Yahoo for $1.1 billion. But I still like him, because he stands up against what he calls “drive-by nastiness” which riddles social networking. You know, when people take it upon themselves to write horrible, unhelpful and totally unsolicited hideousness beneath what you’ve shared online.

Yes, it’s true that on Tumblr people can still say nasty things but their nastiness appears on their own page rather than yours. It’s a small thing but it’s enough to make me like him.

Twitter: @scottiesays