Workers Hammer No. 223
Free Jeremy Forrest!
Teacher jailed in puritanical anti-sex witch hunt
British society is obsessed with sex — or, more precisely, obsessed with making sure that certain people are not having sex. In the media onslaught of sex scandals, every week brings a new crisis. The gutter press’s frenzy du jour is over Jeremy Forrest, a young teacher who had the misfortune of reciprocating the love of a teenage student. Forrest, who was 30 at the time, entered into a consensual relationship with a 15-year-old. After receiving warnings from the school and then visits from the police, the two fled to France to be together — which is ludicrously being spun into a tale of “abduction”. For his so-called crimes, Forrest has been sentenced to five and a half years in prison on five counts of sexual activity with a “child”.
One of the vilest elements in Forrest’s case is the treatment of the woman, now 16, not by the teacher who allegedly “damaged” her, but by the state and its media flunkies. Supposedly for her protection, her lover has been imprisoned, she has been deemed unable to take responsibility for her own actions and had her most intimate affairs spun into front-page news. No normal person would seek this “protection”. The young woman has insisted that she initiated the relationship and that she loves Forrest and wishes to continue her relationship with him: “Running away is what I wanted to do. I wasn’t under any pressure from Jeremy. I wasn’t forced. It was my decision” (thesun.co.uk, 30 June). Now the police are investigating whether Forrest colluded, via a third party, to influence her testimony. Apparently the “poor confused” woman’s opinion is of no consequence.
Unlike the hysterical bourgeois press, we do not believe that merely being older, or having a better job, or a so-called position of authority, enables someone to cast a spell on young people and turn them into sex-crazed automatons unaccountable for their actions. For Marxists the guiding principle in sexual relations is effective consent: what two (or more) people agree to do, without coercion, is no business of the state. Likewise, we oppose all laws against “crimes without victims” such as prostitution, drug use or pornography. These state-dictated, puritanical restrictions on human behaviour leave the lives of innocent people in tatters.
Forrest, a man with a promising career who by all accounts was a very good teacher and very caring, is now being branded a “paedophile” who “groomed” his “victim”. After serving his sentence, he is to be banned from teaching and listed on the Sex Offenders Register. Forrest is one of numerous teachers who have been hounded out of jobs and even jailed for consensual sex. For a close and sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student in 2009, music teacher Helen Goddard spent 15 months behind bars. In 2006, William Gibson was suspended from teaching maths when his 1980 conviction for indecent assault came to light — a conviction based on his relationship with a pupil who he had gone on to marry and have three children with. The ordeals inflicted on these individuals are reminiscent of Christian trials of sin whereby a charge of adultery or fornication could see the offender stood barefoot in sackcloth on the public stool of repentance, sometimes every Sunday for years. “Harlots” would be driven out of town after a ducking in “the deepest and foulest pool of the town”.
As bourgeois politicians turn the screws of austerity ever tighter, laying waste to working people, sex scaremongering grows in proportion. The irrational fear that sexual predators lurk behind every corner is exploited to falsely present the capitalist state as a defender of young people and women, and to feed socially conservative attitudes — and the charge of paedophilia whips Britain into a fervour unlike any other. The capitalist class’s feigned concern for child welfare is a sick joke, as attested by the hundreds of youth arrested in the aftermath of the 2012 London riots. They were prosecuted at an unprecedented rate — despite being too young in the eyes of the law to make independent decisions! The young offenders’ jails are bursting at the seams, while the government slashes funding for childcare, schools, hospitals, and benefits.
There are certainly damaged individuals capable of atrocities. But in contrast to the aggressive prosecution of “age of consent” violations in which no one is harmed, the prospects of justice are bleak for victims of actual rape, who are harassed by the police and put on trial themselves as the courts scrutinise their morals. In the bourgeois legal system, the prosecution of sexual offences has little to do with protecting women against violence. The laws exist for the protection of women as property, based on the moral code embodied in the institution of the family. The real crime in patriarchal societies of all kinds is that the woman is “defiled”; her value as a “pure” transmission belt for the inheritance of private property is damaged.
This goes to the crux of women’s oppression. The institution of the family, which the bourgeoisie uses to pass its property on to the next generation, is the source of women’s oppression. For working people, it is the means through which running the household and rearing the next generation are relegated to women’s “second shift”, with children dependent on the whims of their parents and couples bound together by social pressure and economic need. The venomous anti-sex fear and repression that underlie bourgeois morality flow from the role of the family and also provide ideological reinforcement for it.
British society has long had a reputation for upholding the Victorian sexual standards, including the dual standard that, while men are naturally lecherous, “decent” women actually do not like sex (unless of course they’ve succumbed to “binge drinking”). Peter Fryer chronicled the attempts to force this moralism on the population in his book Mrs Grundy: Studies in English Prudery (1963). He ridiculed the hypocrisy of self-appointed guardians of public morals, noting of their attempts to shut down strip shows that:
“Ours is a culture in which most people say they find such exhibitions disgusting; though there are many who, if they had an opportunity of witnessing them without incurring opprobrium, would do so. Why it is less disgusting for men to enter marriage ignorant of the clitoris, or of its role in women’s sexual pleasure, than for men to witness a demonstration of the clitoris being used to secure pleasure (from which they might conceivably learn how to give more pleasure to their wives) is not immediately apparent.”
Criminalising consensual sexual activity has always been a war cry of the fire-and-brimstone religious types and other right-wing forces. However, Britain’s feminists as well as reformists like the Socialist Party (SP) and Socialist Workers Party (SWP) have also flocked to the cause of repression. The “Reclaim the Night” marches they trumpet, like the campaigns to censor stand-up comedy, impose stricter licensing laws, cover up “page three girls”, etc, invoke the pretext of defending women to demand greater state powers, more policing, more proscriptions, more prison terms.
Most telling in this regard is the complicity of leftists and liberals in the imperialists’ vendetta against Julian Assange. Both the SP and the SWP have given credence to allegations that Assange is a rapist and to the attempts to extradite him to Sweden, despite the fact that he has not even been charged! The Swedish government is seeking his extradition, not to face trial, but for “questioning” regarding allegations made by two women who, by their own accounts, had consensual sex with him. Assange’s real crime, in the eyes of the US government and their British and Swedish junior partners, was the release of hundreds of thousands of classified documents detailing the brutality of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. What Assange’s extradition might mean is suggested by the fate of US Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning. Detained in inhuman “pre-trial” conditions for more than three years, Manning is currently being tried by an American military court, where he faces life in prison for his genuinely heroic role in this WikiLeaks exposure.
The SP and the SWP, who so blithely enlisted in the witch hunt against Assange, evince an abiding faith in the capitalist state, which they entrust to “protect” women and children, as well as to regulate the sexual activity of youth. It’s like calling on Jack the Ripper to guard a brothel. We demand: Down with reactionary “age of consent” laws! Government out of the bedroom! As revolutionary Marxists, we understand that ending the persecution of consensual sexual activity will require smashing the capitalist state and replacing it with one controlled by the workers. Then the task of reorganising society to meet human need can begin. A workers government would provide socialised childcare and kitchens as well as free access to quality healthcare, birth control and abortions. By removing the material need for the bourgeois family, socialism will render irrelevant the restrictive social norms that flow from it. Our defence of victims of puritanical witch hunts is a component part of our Marxist programme for women’s liberation through socialist revolution. Free Jeremy Forrest! Down with the anti-sex witch hunt!