At work I deal with people far too often who have been abused, who’s lives have never recovered and who’s self-destructive behaviour can be traced back to a childhood filled with violence, neglect or sexual abuse.
I am both sad at how commonplace abuse is, and made angry at how badly this is understood. I’m also angry that abuse is used to sell the media, often portrayed unrealistically, or terrible crimes gaudily displayed such that the media are guilty of merely adding one more layer of exploitation.
There is a massive difference between naivety and exploitation, between stupidity and viscousness, between a relationship the public cannot cope with and real abuse.
Break out the victory champagne, Megan Stammers has been found and her teacher is coming willingly home.
The general media stance has been that the teacher is a predator, or at least a fool, and Megan is a victim, or at least a fool. Photo’s of Megan show a sweet innocent child, photo’s of Jeremy show a sunken eyed tramp who lacks sleep. Deliberate? Gosh, what a thought.
I will not pretend to know what happened, nor would any number of newspapers or tv slots make me any the wiser. To be honest I don’t really care – I don’t know Megan, or her teacher, or her family, or the area where she lives, or her school… all in all her life is of no interest or consequence to me whatsoever.
This whole story does, however, bring up two important points which highlight so much of what is wrong with our media, and with us for consuming it so readily.
Our first question might be, what is the truth here? Why did Megan run away? Are things so bad at home that she felt she had to leave? This is not an angle the press have felt necessary to follow. Was her home life wonderful, but her love for Jeremy Forrest was so strong she felt she had to be with him? Was she just being a fickle teenager who had a great home life but still thought everything was ‘well bad’, and her parents ‘so totally mean’ to her? Did Jeremy force her to go, or ‘groom her’?
How would we feel if we found out that Megan’s step-father had pleaded so convincingly for her return because he was afraid she would tell…
I admit I have not read a great deal about this case, as I said I don’t care, I have enough to manage in my own life and no need for vicarious adventure. From the few column inches I have scanned, none of these questions seems to have been answered – not many even asked.
In order to sell a paper the news must be exciting, strong, easy to digest in a quick bite and powerfully emotional. You can sell paedophiles, you can sell child abduction, you can sell sinister teachers – but it’s hard to sell the wishy. washy, grey and blurry truth. Hand in hand as they were, it looked very much as though Megan left by choice. Something at home was bad enough that she was willing to leave it, even if what was bad was only that life for teenagers is pretty miserable a lot of the time. Her teacher risked a great deal. A ‘standard’ paedophile would surely have just tried to have sex with Megan, not run away in such an ill-planned and obvious manner. Clearly there is some genuine feeling going on here. He was still an idiot, and should have controlled his feelings at least until Megan was of an age to make a mature decision.
But we could ask forever and still have gaps in our knowledge. Trying to find the truth only leaves us aware of our own inevitable ignorance.
By packaging the story simplistically, the media neatly covers all the unanswerable questions, ignores wider social issues and contexts, and gains a “sensation” to shift it’s programmes and papers.
Meanwhile the world has spent days following the sweet but frankly dull story of a runaway couple because a child might be exploited. Due to media coverage the police have moved en-masse and Anglo-French forces have done all they can to find the couple. During this same time thousands of children have been genuinely abducted and sold into sexual slavery or exploitation.
The same police who could not do more to ‘save’ Megan, could not have done less to help the children in real danger, despite knowing about them. Megan’s parents put out a cry for help and the world moved. When the parents of the kidnapped children cried out, no one moved.
What is happening here? Again the ‘truth’ is likely to be so complicated that we will never really know. However, I would put some money on at least one thing being true.
Jeremy was a prat. Romantic, in love, a dirty ‘old’ man? Who knows, but certainly a prat. Their ‘escape’ was so inept that it was never going to succeed. They could not have been easier to find, and so they were a great opportunity for the police to look good. “See, see how we rescued the poor child, see how good we are.”
When it comes to real child exploitation the gangs are organised, the children harder to find. This costs money which no one is really willing to spend, and so too little is done.
In other news, Craig Evans has been jailed for 18 months for ‘inciting a child to engage in sexual activity’. What did he do? He sent a dirty text to his girlfriend, and then accidentally pressed the “send to all contacts” button. Everyone got the text, his ‘alibi’ is solid, unfortunately there were two girls numbers on his phone, one age 13, the other 14.
Again he was easy – he could be arrested and jailed without too much effort because he was naive. He believed genuine justice would prevail, that his obvious innocence would be enough to free him. He forgot that the public need blood and the law has gone mad. A real pervert would not be so stupid, so obvious, so easy to catch.
To prove our moral rectitude, and the might of justice, we have sent a man to jail for pressing the wrong button on his phone. Next we will jail a man for having immature tastes in girlfriends. All the while, real perverts and rapists are exploiting and destroying the lives of children and nothing will be done about it.