There has been more than a smattering of people – I have seen it said, I’m not just making it up to have something to say – wondering why someone who has done some child molesting of several young people gets less time in prison than someone what done a few sexes with one girl of fifteen (I am listening to Russell Brand while typing this – should explain the (un)chameleonlike* change).
I didn’t think for it for long – or get that confused by it. The sentencing is not saying it is OK for a celebrity to force children to have sex and molest children. Sentencing people after a decision has been made takes into account different issues – such it is that there is a range of time people can serve for crimes.
The broadcaster Stuart Hall is an old man for whom a prison sentence of any length might constitute a death sentence. He is very old and clearly reached some kind of plea bargain, admitting some of his crimes in return for leniency (in the hope he would be sentence leniently is perhaps what it would be better to say). The sentencing doesn’t mean anything has been condoned. It does feel a little bit like that admittedly. If I were one of his victims (that he forced into sexual acts when they were children – in one case nine years old) I would think he had got off lightly for 14 offences of child sexes.
Then the teacher Jeremy Forrest gets five-and-a-half years for some consensual sex with someone who is fifteen. It’s like four times as long (nearly) for his crime. And there are some people equating those custodial sentences to the crimes directly.
As well as punishing the criminal the whole punishment thing is there as a deterrent of other. Now here is where you can see why this Forrest chap’s heavier sentence makes sense. Making a big example of people trusted with children’s care breaking that trust is big, bad thing. Teachers have to be above having sex with their students and running away to France with them for more sex – surely this has to be discouraged.
And there are lots of people teaching students who might be thinking “I remember at teacher school being told not to lick children or try to marry them but I’m not sure if it is OK really and it was just one of them things teacher teachers make up to fill the lessons up with.” And the punishment of Forrest enforces what a right bad thing it is for someone in a position of trust to sex up a child and run away to France with them.
So there are lots of teachers working with 15-year-olds who might be tempted. There are more teachers than there are currently men working in a permissive 1970s celebrity culture where BBC presenters got away with molesting nine year olds.
So, is it OK to punish people less harshly for this kind of retrospective crime? I don’t know. Who am I to judge? Whereas the judges who judged on the cases are judges to judge – it’s their job, which it appears they did in both cases. But I know a punishment dished out now to a teacher will act as a warning to people who might be thinking they could get away with a dabble with a student who was practically sixteen. I doubt there are TV celebrities thinking they will start to abuse children as they can cope with an 18-month sentence when they are 83 as a consequence.
It is still definitely disturbing that Hall gets such a short sentence though. I think I disagree with most of what I just wrote. I once stood near him – we were both having a cigarette outside a fancy restaurant. I would say his whole sex crimes had retrospectively ruined that meal for me – as I now associate it with him – but I recall I didn’t think that much of the meal at the time. Maybe I am just putting a brave face on it but I feel my experience is not the worst one in this whole thing.
*Chameleons change colour to adapt to their environment – I have phrased some words in a slightly jaunty way like Russell Brand might like.