Sunday, October 23, 2005

'A Kiss Is Just A Kiss'..........

.........except when it's a sexual assault.
Last week a young woman teacher was convicted of abuse for kissing a boy pupil. She said that the boy had kissed her.
Whatever the truth of their encounter in a cupboard, it was certainly 'inappropriate behaviour'. But sexual abuse?

Did this really warrant not one trial but two, because the first case collapsed and there was a retrial, at huge public expense?
In the second trial the jury deliberated for eleven hours before returning majority verdicts. The precise charge was "abusing a position of trust by sexual activity with a child." The child in this case was a teenager, albeit below the age of consent.

A 'non-consensual' kiss on the lips is not something that anybody welcomes. I've been on the receiving end of quite a few in my life (though never from teachers) but it never occurred to me that I was being sexually assaulted.
Isn't calling a kiss a 'sexual assault' a corruption of language and doesn't it weaken a term that should be reserved for far more serious forms of abuse?
At this rate, shaking hands with someone will be construed as foreplay.

It's no wonder that the jury had such difficulty in reaching a verdict. For some of the evidence in this case was ludicrous. It was said that the teacher wore 'provocative' clothing, although the press reports didn't define what this was. It would have to be pretty provocative to arouse teenage boys who probably had copies of 'Zoo' and 'Nuts' and 'FHM' in their school bags.
It was also said that she encouraged pupils to lie on the floor in warm weather and that this allowed them to look up her skirt.
A 15 year old boy said "She used to float around the classroom a lot, checking on the boys' work and touching their shoulders."
Touching their shoulders? If she were stroking their thighs I could see the problem. But when I was at school it was common for teachers, both male and female, to put a reassuring hand on your shoulder as they checked your work.
When I was at primary school, a male teacher had a habit of patting my bottom to indicate that I could return to my desk. I have no reason to think there was anything sexual about this but today the poor man would probably be led into court with his coat over his head.

Reading the details of this trial, there's certainly a prima facie case for saying that this teacher behaved injudiciously or even inappropriately. It was certainly easier for this boy to pester her - as she claimed - because she had given him her mobile phone number.
But it's odd that as we become a more 'touchy-feely' society and displays of human warmth and affection are generally regarded as a positive attribute in a person, in certain contexts like schools and workplaces people are becoming paranoid about physical contact.
In many cases, a word from the Head or the Boss would be a more sensible and proportionate response than dragging people through the criminal courts, destroying their lives and racking up huge costs to the taxpayer.


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