An eye for an eye?

This is neither going to be a popular post nor is it an easy one to write.

In the wake of the frankly mind-boggling abuse trials and inquiries recently, the jailing yesterday of a 26 year-old PE teacher for an affair with a 15 year-old pupil would be insignificant, were it not for the general hysteria that currently surrounds even the mere mention of sexual abuse.

But... (deep breath).

Unwanted sexual behaviour and unwelcome advances constitute assault. There's no doubting that. In fact, the effects of such abuse can be more devastating and longer lasting than from physical assault. Mental scars can be longest to heal, if ever. So the perpetrator in this and similar cases must be punished. No doubt.

But fifteen months in jail?

Let's put that into perspective. Baby P's mother Sharon Connolly, for example, received an indeterminate sentence. But with a tariff of just five years. (She has since been released from prison on parole.) Another defendant in that case received three years. And the main perpetrator of the death of the vulnerable two-year-old got life - with a ten year tariff.

Despite popular opinion, jails aren't an easy option. More especially, perhaps, for educated, middle class offenders. More to the point, perhaps, is the question of what purpose such a sentence serves in cases such as this?

Is the teacher being punished as an example to the rest of us?

Well, possibly. Although, frankly, I doubt there'll be many people out there reading their newspapers and immediately taking vows of celibacy. I've been a teacher long enough (twenty-plus years) to remember the days when affairs between members of staff and sixth form pupils weren't exactly unknown or even especially frowned upon, still less prohibited by law. Indeed, I can recall certain teachers discreetly keeping such relationships a secret and then, after a decent interval, marrying their former pupils. And as far as I'm aware remaining happily married to them for many years thereafter.

So is the idea to 'right wrongs' - to see justice done or, in other words, to get revenge? Well, maybe. Although its hardly a very civilised or noble motive. But if jail satisfies our taste for blood then surely a career (rightly) in ruins and a reputation tattered might be punishment enough? Why punish anyone further in a situation like this? The tragedy of the case alone will ensure that wrongs are not forgotten, still less forgiven.

Will it help the victim?

A sense of justice, achieving closure and moving on are all essential if the life of any victim, whatever the crime, isn't to be eternally blighted. But after the headlines and the brou ha ha, who will even remember the victim? And what help will she receive? It costs money to send people to prison and if there isn't an urgent need to protect the rest of us I'm not convinced that the money shouldn't be better spent on counselling for both victim and offender and on training or on programmes of re-educating or any number of more healing and forgiving and caring options and sanctions.

After all, as Ghandi famously said, an eye for an eye and we will all be blind.

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