Jeremy Forrest, Agency and Rape Culture

This week has seen the convictions of both Stuart Hall and Jeremy Forrest for sexual crimes against minors. Hall received a 15 month sentence after admitting to 14 charges of indecent assault. Forrest was convicted of abducting his teenage student and subsequently admitted to offences involving sexual activity with a child. Like John Peel, Roman Polanski and countless “celebrities” before them, both men are sexual predators. Forrest may only have been a teacher within a school, but as Joan Smith pointed out, schools are microcosms where one individual can cultivate a status of celebrity. Jeremy Forrest used his position as a teacher to groom a female student for sexual abuse.

She was 15.

Jeremy Forrest was 30 years old.

Despite the fact that this is clearly a case of child sexual abuse, I have seen countless discussions on Facebook and Twitter demanding that people respect the “agency” of the child in her abuse. People are genuinely discussing the “agency” of a teenage girl in her grooming, kidnapping, and rape.

A 15 year-old-girl was groomed, kidnapped and raped by her teacher; a man she was supposed to be able to trust. Instead of discussing the horrific abuse of power by Jeremy Forrest, people are talking about the “agency” of a child in her own abuse. Instead of using the term sexual predator or rapist to describe Forrest, we are discussing the “agency” of his victim.

A 30-year-old man chose to target a young girl and groomed her. A 30-year-old man chose to have sex with a 15-year-old-girl. Forrest made a choice to sexually abuse his student.

So, where are the discussions about Forrest’s “agency”? Why are we discussing the “agency” of a teenage girl and not the “agency” of the man who chose to kidnap and rape her? Why aren’t we focussing on the choices made by an adult? Why are we trying to cast a teenage girl as responsible for her own rape?

Why do we only use the word “agency” to reference the victims of a crime? Do perpetrators not have “agency”? Are perpetrators not “empowered” to make choices and be held accountable for those choices? Did John Peel and Roman Polanski not make a choice to abuse children because they could? Did Jimmy Savile not make a choice every time he abused a child? Did Savile not have “agency” over his own life?

We need to stop using the term agency when talking about sexual abuse. Agency implies that the victims were in some way responsible for their own abuse. 13-year-old girls may have stood outside John Peel’s studio but he made the choice to sexually abuse them. The only people who have “agency” in these situations are the adults. Adult men need to be held responsible for their crimes of violence. We need to name the perpetrators. We need to stop blaming victims of sexual violence for being victims.

We have a problem with male violence in our culture. We will not stop male violence by erasing the culpability of men by insisting on discussing the “agency” of children in their own abuse. We will not prevent other children from being abused by men if we insist on victim blaming.

Jeremy Forrest groomed a child. He chose to groom a child. He chose to rape a child.

This is male violence.

This is rape culture.

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