September has been a cruel month for susceptible and impressionable British children. At Derby Crown Court, eight (mostly white) men were jailed for a total of 52 years for finding, drugging and raping young girls. Another Crown Court in Reading convicted a gang which lured young girls to "sex-parties", hotels and backs of cars, to be defiled and filmed. Then came a report on the Asian men in Rochdale who had picked up, groomed and used white girls, many from troubled or impoverished homes. Grim stuff.
Now out from behind a thicket, come three women who allege the late Sir Jimmy Savile, he of the twinkling eyes and strange proclivities, sexually despoiled them in his dressing room when they were minors. The BBC and police did nothing even as rumours spread of what he was up to.
Let's be clear, child sex abuse is not the same as child abduction. And it is a child-abduction case that has also gripped us this week: 15-year-old Megan Stammer's "elopement" to France with Jeremy Forrest, 30, a maths tutor at the Bishop Bell Church of England School in Eastbourne. She is back now and he is being questioned on suspicion of child abduction, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of seven years. But I am troubled by the linkage of what Forrest did with the cases above. We have such a wide range of dissimilar offences against minors, all lumped together in the popular imagination.
Of course, I am not excusing Forrest and his ilk. I think they are wicked and twisted for toying with the minds and hearts of adolescents, who are trying to find and know themselves as their adult identity emerges. In the past, educationalists were expected to exercise "moral turpitude" even at university. That has gone. We need to bring back old moral boundaries between teacher and learner. Instead of being protected by schools, the staffroom Lotharios should be exposed, never be employed in those positions again. However, they are not dangerous in the same way as the sadistic gangs above.
Using children, who sometimes don't even know what's going on, is mental and physical brutality; young people willingly drawn into relationships with adults are victims of individual manipulation. We should distinguish the two, and come up with more appropriate sanctions.