A couple of weeks after a photogenic Oxford student with a conveyor belt career smoothly lined-up for her received a suspended sentence for stabbing her boyfriend whilst under the influence, a woman one year younger than Lavinia Woodward hasn’t been granted similar clemency from our judiciary. 23-year-old Alice McBrearty has been sentenced to 16 months for having a ‘full-blown (unfortunate turn of phrase) sexual relationship’ with a 15-year-old schoolboy. Eight years between the seducer and the seduced isn’t that great an age gap when compared to, say, Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone and his third wife Fabiana (a staggering 47 years his junior), Billy Joel and his current missus (33 years’ difference) or Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall (25 years); but, lest we forget, the pupil was under-16 by a few months, so that means Ms McBrearty is officially a Paedo.
The defence barrister in the case said that her client ‘is not sexually attracted to children,’ before adding ‘She will of course be branded a paedophile for the rest of her life. She is a sex offender’. As a result of pleading guilty to seven counts of sexual activity with a child while in a position of trust, Alice McBrearty is bracketed in the same legal category as a loathsome individual like Ian Watkins. After sentencing, a lawyer representing our old friends at the CPS said ‘We would like to thank the victim for coming forward and for supporting this prosecution during what has been a difficult time for him and his family.’ However, it was the father of the ‘victim’ who intervened in the affair and contacted the police rather than the boy himself. Of course, such an intervention would have severely altered the wistful ambience of Bobby Goldsboro’s 1973 hit, ‘Summer (The First Time)’, but this isn’t 1973.
One wonders how much longer the sentence Alice McBrearty received would’ve been in the reversal of this case’s gender roles; a 23-year-old man seducing a 15-year-old girl would certainly have received a prison sentence, though recent patterns in such cases suggest he’d have been looking at a tenure behind bars considerably more extensive than 16 months. Not that gender imbalance diminishes other double standards on display where this particular case is concerned. The fact remains that, going by current legal definitions, inflicting serious physical injury upon a partner is a lesser offence than providing them with practical sex education – an extracurricular lesson that it’s hard to imagine the ‘victim’ being an unwilling scholar of.
According to slavering press reports, the female teacher at a school in East London had a four-month affair with the unnamed male pupil – indulging in classroom snogging, sex acts in her car (which may have constituted the ‘full-blown’ aspect of the relationship), and the inevitable hotel rendezvous; she even got her leg over with him at her parents’ home. The judge’s summary included the observation that ‘I accept you truly believed this was a great romance, that you were in love with him and vice versa, and that age didn’t matter; but it did.’
When, way back in the 80s, I and a fellow 19-year-old were advertising for musicians to form a band, being contacted by a 23-year-old bass-player led to a shared immediate opinion that this ‘old man’ was a bit suspect, believing if he hadn’t found fame and fortune at the advanced age of 23 he was evidently doomed to obscurity. Remembering this serves as a reminder of how a mere four-year gap makes a difference at 19, something that was brought back to me not so long ago when I overheard a conversation between two student girls mulling over whether or not to accept the offer of a potential flatmate also aged 23; ‘He sounds a bit weird’ opined one of them, a character summary which appeared to be solely based on his age. The chasm is perhaps wider than one cares to recall when distanced from the adolescent mindset – though I’ve no doubt this was part of the attraction for the boy inducted into a world he probably craved to be a member of when he encountered Alice McBrearty.
Judge Sheelagh Canavan said that Ms McBrearty was ‘a bright, intelligent and gifted young woman who knew right from wrong’ who nevertheless committed ‘the grossest breach of trust’. The judge accepted the ‘victim’ was consenting, adding ‘What 15-year-old schoolboy would turn down such an attractive offer?’ That the judge acknowledged the boy’s willing participation in the affair with a woman eight years his senior speaks volumes; but as things stand, the law is there in black-and-white, and Alice McBrearty knew it was – as did her besotted ‘victim’. The CPS interpreted their relationship from the legal perspective, as is their wont, stating ‘She conducted a sexual relationship for months with a boy, despite knowing he was under-age and she was committing a crime; she groomed him on social media and bought him gifts before having sex with him in her home, at a hotel and in her car.’
Of the two traditional sexual fantasies that tend to occupy male minds – schoolgirls and older women – the former has now been discredited as latent paedophilia whereas the latter retains its potent allure, even if it becomes redundant as the decades roll by and the only older women resemble Vera Lynn. For the average teenage boy, however, the attraction remains as relevant as the opposite does for his female equivalent; in the turbulent maelstrom of the teenage thought processes, the desire to be over-16 is predominant; the teenager in question will gravitate towards any adult prepared to treat them as a fellow adult, and that includes on a sexual level. That the genuine adult should know better is the real issue. Alice McBrearty at 23 was quite possibly as emotionally immature as the 15-year-old she seduced and may not have been the scheming predator the 16 month sentence will portray her as; but does that make her a sex offender? As the law stands, yes.
© The Editor