Oh dear. Another judge, another case of victim-blaming. A 44-year-old Religious Education teacher who had sex with a pupil has been spared jail because the judge ruled she had “stalked him”. That’s right. Not the teacher, who was in a position of power over his pupil, stalking her, but the other way round.
If this comment were not depressing enough, Judge Joanna Greenberg QC said it was the 16-year-old girl who “groomed” her teacher.
To be clear, I have not sat through this case at Inner London Crown Court, but it is hard to read these remarks in any other way than yet another example of a victim blaming culture in the police and justice system.
Judge Greenberg handed Stuart Kerner, a teacher at Bexleyheath Academy, a suspended sentence because, she said, he had not actively pursued an affair with his pupil. The judge said: “Her friends described her, accurately in my view, as stalking you ... If grooming is the right word to use, it was she who groomed you, (and) you gave in to temptation.” The word “temptation” here is particularly shocking, as if this child – and she is a child - were some sort of femme fatale with a worldly-wise control over men. The judge also described the girl as “intelligent and manipulative”. In fact, the girl told the police in an interview that sex with her teacher “felt special. But, I dunno, it wasn't really. And admitting that does kind of hurt”.
There are certainly no winners in this case. Kerner, who denied all the charges he faced, will not teach again and has been placed on the sex offenders register. His 18-month suspended sentence will live with him for the rest of his life. The court heard how he was vulnerable and traumatised after his wife had a miscarriage, sleeping with the girl in the same week as that tragedy. Yet for a judge to describe a 16-year-old girl, who is the victim of an unlawful sexual act, as a “stalker” and a “groomer” is outrageous. A pupil is a pupil – there should be no excuse. So what if she had a “schoolgirl crush” on her teacher? This can be no justification for a teacher to reciprocate, no matter how vulnerable his or her state.
What is more, Judge Greenberg’s comments send yet another signal to other victims of sexual offences that their behaviour will be taken into account in any trial – which is partly why rape and sex attack convictions are so low. And these remarks are certainly not unique. Last year, another judge – who also happened to be a woman – criticised rape victims for drinking too much because they could not remember what happened. Judge Mary Jane Mowat said: “But a jury in a position where they’ve got a woman who says, ‘I was absolutely off my head, I can’t really remember what I was doing, I can’t remember what I said, I can’t remember if I consented or not but I know I wouldn’t have done’, I mean when a jury is faced with something like that, how are they supposed to react?”
The police and the justice system need to be clear: no matter what the circumstances, victims of sexual assault need support, not blame.