The younger boy and the older woman

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here have been a number of cases in the courts of older women having affairs, including sex, with boys who are below the age of consent - boys who were in love with these women at the time. The age of consent in Britain is 16, which means that if anyone has sex with someone who is below that age they are commiting a criminal act even if no one is forced to do anything against their will. What follows is the story of one of these cases.

The woman in question was in her mid 20's - a divorced mother of two. She had a very friendly relationship with a number of boys in the neighbourhood who used to come round to her house after the divorce to help out with odd jobs such as cutting the grass in her little garden and doing various DIY jobs. She thoroughly enjoyed the company of the boys, and by all accounts they enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of the house and the fact that they could all sit and listen to music together and chat about anything at all.

Having been left feeling lonely, rejected and unappealing by her ex-husband she needed the attention. When one of the boys, who happened to be 15 at the time, let her know how attractive he found her, whe was flattered and moved. Her husband had left her feeling miserable especially about her weight. Now, though, she was being told she was sexy by someone who, despite his age, she really liked being with.

They fell in love and were not deterred from doing what lovers do by the law about the age of consent. After the two fell in love she occasionally wrote him sick notes so that he could stay off school and stay in bed with her. But for them, it wasn't a purely sexual thing - it was love. Their feeling for each other was such that they carried on seeing each other in secret even after the police were called in and she was formally charged.

The press quickly got hold of the story and they were delighted to emphasise that the woman was a teacher and the boy was a pupil (although she had never been a teacher at his school). Her name and her picture were in every newspaper in the country, and the most popular newspapers were quick to condemn her. By contrast, the boy's name and photo appeared nowhere since his age meant that his identity had to be protected.

The woman knew from all the hostility in the press that the judge would send her to prison. For the court it was irrelevant that they had loved each other, and that at no time did the boy claim he had been forced to do anything against his will. She pleaded guilty to having had sexual intercourse with a minor and she was sentenced to two years imprisonment, during which time her two children were taken into care and handed over temporarily to foster parents.

The woman is now out of prison but her criminal record means that she will never be able to work as a teacher again. Being on the list of paedophiles, she must report to the police whenever she wants to travel or change address.

Given the devastating consequences of this court case for the woman, compounded by the ensuing publicity, the question arises of whether the law should criminalise actions like hers. She may have acted in a foolish and immature way, but did she really deserve to be labelled a criminal? To focus specifically on the law, there is also the question of the age of consent: should it be set so much higher than the age at which many young people are already sexually active? In Holland, where the age of consent is 12, it would have been impossible for the parents of the boy in this case to take the woman to court since the boy had never been forced to do anything against his will. There would have been no legal case to answer and the parents would have had tosettle the matter independently of the courts - something which could have been achieved quite painlessly and without the devastating repercussions of the court case.

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