Don’t Romanticise Child Abuse

Jeremy Forrest, a married maths teacher from Eastbourne, was convicted on charges of abduction and and sexual activity with a child last week. Forrest, now 31, had been having an affair with a 15 year old schoolgirl under his care, which culminated in an international manhunt when the pair went on the run to France last autumn, after suspicions about the affair were raised.


Now that Forrest has stood trial a media frenzy has erupted. Many stories denounce Forrest as an abuser and a paedophile, while others have sensationalised the events into a kind of ‘doomed star-crossed lovers’ narrative, reporting on Forrest’s future plans to marry the girl, who intends to wait on the sidelines while he serves his sentence.


However, the NSPCC has warned against romanticising this case of child abuse (The Guardian, 24th June 2013). The bottom line is that Forrest – who was in a position of responsibility and expected to be working under a strict code of ethics – groomed a young and vulnerable girl, towards whom he had a duty of care as her teacher. The Guardian reported that Judge Michael Lawson QC, who sentenced Forrest, said the teacher chose to “ignore the cardinal rule of teaching” in not even trying to maintain appropriate boundaries between himself and his pupil. There was a distinct power imbalance in the relationship, with Forrest being in a position of trust and Megan having been highlighted as a psychologically vulnerable child coming from a difficult background. All this equates to abuse.


Grooming refers to the process of psychologically manipulating an other, in order to gain their trust and thus lower inhibitions to pave the way for exploitation, often – but not solely – of a sexual nature. It is a term we usually hear in reference to child abuse, especially online. But adults can also find themselves to be victims of grooming and psychological manipulation in romantic relationships.


As sad as it sounds, many relationships that are formed in this way are those that start out appearing ‘too good to be true’. An abuser may shower their partner with gifts, praise and affection in the early days of a relationship – also known as love-bombing – thus winning over their target and paving the way for later abuse. Psychological manipulation can slide into the relationship without it even being noticed, until it becomes severe or maybe erupts into physical abuse, by which time the victim is often very deeply entwined and dependent on their abusive partner – again, one of the original intents of the grooming process.


Relationships based on manipulation and psychological abuse are often revered as Romeo and Juliet-esque ‘it’s complicated’ type relationships, which only those involved can understand. There may be a romanticised ‘us against the world’ and ‘love conquers all’ quality to the partnership, keeping you deeply entangled in something from which it becomes more and more difficult to escape.


With so much talk of both historic and current cases of grooming, paedophilia and child abuse in the media at the moment people who relate to these stories may find themselves affected. Perhaps something from the past has been triggered for you, and you need a space in which to explore how you are feeling and to tell your story? Or maybe recent events resonate for you in the here-and-now? At The Grove we understand that past experiences can continue to haunt us, and that traumatic events that occurred in childhood often need to be talked through as an adult in order to make some sense of what happened and allow us to begin to move on. We are also experienced in working with relationship issues through both individual and couples’ counselling, and understand how difficult it can be to come to terms with the realisation that a relationship is not what you thought it was, or hoped it would be. We will provide a space for you to reflect on what is going on and to think through your options, so let’s talk first and gain some understanding of what is happening, so we can decide how to move forward together.