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Tuesday, 5 February, 2002, 13:21 GMT
'Sexy Miss': Not a dream come true
Amy Gehring
Amy Gehring: Cleared but now barred from teaching
Adults may joke about the "sexy miss" cleared of indecent assault, but it can be hard to recognise that boys who have sex with older women are the victims of abuse - just like girls preyed on by men.

If a male teacher had been accused of having sex with 14 and 15-year-old girls, he would no doubt be painted as a sexual predator and his pupils as victims of abuse.

But in the court case against Amy Gehring, the supply teacher cleared of indecent assault on underage boys, the accusations have always been couched in terms of "every schoolboy's fantasy".

It's different for boys because of society's attitudes - you're not allowed to be a victim

Dr Kim Etherington
The trial may well have reminded men up and down the country of their own fond fantasies of teacher, but, as the prosecutor Stella Reynolds pointed out to the Gehring jury: "For the boys, this has not been a schoolboy's dream."

Dr Kim Etherington, of the University of Bristol, says boys who have had sex with older women can struggle to accept that they have been abused.

"It's different for boys than for girls because of society's attitudes. To be a proper man, you're not allowed to be a victim. And to be a proper man, you are also identified by your sexual conquests."

Thus not only might a boy suffer the effects of sexual abuse, this can be compounded by the refusal to recognise that it was abuse at all.

Willing but no consent

Julie Bindel, of the University of North London's child and woman abuse studies unit, says although it is hard to generalise, the possible effects of abuse include panic attacks, losing the ability to trust, and sexual disorders.

"The effects are the same as in any child or vulnerable person abused by a person in a position of authority. A 15-year-old boy has a different sexual response than 15-year-old girl, but abuse is abuse."

Legal experts says the case has shown up an anomaly in the law. Although a boy under 16 cannot legally consent to sex, no matter how willing he may appear, an accused woman can only be charged with indecent assault rather than the more serious offence of rape.

However, a new law relating to adults in positions of trust makes it a criminal offence, even if the child is over the age of consent.

'Vilified by media'

But Ms Bindel says the main point of difference is in the public response to such allegations. It may have been more clearly abuse if a male teacher had been accused, but he would also have been less likely to end up in court.

Amy Gehring and media
The Gehring case became a media circus
"His victim may not have been believed. It would have been assumed that she was lying; that it was a malicious accusation; or that she had asked for it.

"Also Amy Gehring has been vilified in the press. On the rare occasions that a male teacher ends up in court, the media either champion him or largely ignore the case."

When a woman accused of sex with underage boys does have her day in court, the case always hits the headlines.

In 1999, newly qualified teacher Renata Williams was cleared of an alleged affair with a pupil. The following year, Frances Edmonds was jailed for 12 months for having sex with two 14-year-old boys.

And in 1998 in the United States, May Kay Letourneau, a teacher jailed for having a sexual relationship with a pupil, made the news again when she gave birth to a girl believed to be her second child by the boy.

See also:

04 Feb 02 | England
Cleared teacher was a 'risk'
04 Feb 02 | Education
How teachers avoid dangerous liaisons
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