Jaci Stephen: At 16, My Teacher Groomed Me into a Damaging Sexual Relationship
Journalist and TV critic Jaci Stephen was groomed into a sexual relationship with her teacher at the age of 16
She reflects on the long-term and nuanced effects of this abuse and whether a change in the law would have helped her
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Should the law be changed to make sexual relations between men in their 30s and 16-year-old girls illegal? It’s the question that’s been raised by Russell Brand accuser ‘Alice’ who believes it should be ‘a criminal offence for a person over the age of 21 to engage in sexual activities with someone under the age of 21.’
On November 8th 1974 and three days past my 16th birthday, I became involved with a man of 30. I was a sexual innocent, looked considerably younger than I was, and boys in school showed zero interest in me, preferring to lavish their many attentions on my best friend, Tina (most names in this article have been changed). It was the first time a member of the opposite sex had shown me any interest in me. And Jim wasn’t just any 30-year-old. He was one of my teachers. A head of department.
Teacher pupil relationships were rife in my secondary school. Tina was involved with one head of department who then turned his attentions to a younger model; Tina then became involved with another head of department. One moved on to a new pupil every year.
In 2008, I wrote about my experience and also spoke about my experience on Richard and Judy’s new Channel 4 chat show. I wondered that if Jim heard about my years of pain and the depression (at one point, self-harming) I suffered as a result of my experience with him, he’d have a smattering of guilt. Not a bit of it. I heard from a friend of his that Jim said he didn’t care because: ‘I don’t read the Mail and I don’t watch daytime TV.’ Having been married for many years to one of the pupils who came after me (one of whom dumped him for a different head of department), he probably never gave me a second thought.
In 2019, Clive Hally (his real name) a retired art teacher from the school, ended his life following allegations of sexual abuse from two boys going back to the 1980s. I met with one of them (who had been 15 at the time) and we shared the consequences we had each suffered as a result of the abuse.
Abuse. It was the first time I had been able to call my experience for what it was. And at the end of one of the newspaper reports, there was a helpline by South Wales Police, inviting victims to come forward.
My mother had recently died and I decided that now, without the risk of traumatising Mum, was the time to report Jim for what he was: a groomer and a grown-up who had not only abused his position as a teacher but an adult. Because that’s what he was. An adult. And I was a child.
When the police visited me during a short trip I had taken to Cardiff, I was in tears, just as I had been for so much of the time during the 45 years since Jim had made his first advance and I had pushed him away. Several times that happened. ‘Jesus Christ! You’re a hard one!’ I remember him saying. I eventually became too nervous to say no.
I told South Wales Police that I wished to take Jim to court and they arranged a date for me to visit Cowbridge Police Station for a full interview. In the meantime, I provided them with copies of all the relevant pages from my diaries and notebooks.
It was only when the words were coming out of my mouth during the interview – alone, in a room, with only a microphone and tape for company – that the reality of abuse hit me. The many forced sexual acts – often pushing my head into his lap when he was driving, for goodness’ sake. The encounters in his stock cupboard he asked me to ‘tidy’ on so many occasions. In class, he would sit opposite me with his hand up my skirt and in my pants.
I spent my money on books about sex because I was confused about what he wanted me to do. I had started seeing John, a man of 21, and Mum and Dad were frantic. They knew nothing of my secret life. They needn’t have worried about John. We went to Porthcawl fair and he tentatively touched my right breast. My screams drowned out those from the Ghost Train – ironic, given what was going on with Jim.
Detail after detail. In over three hours, I poured everything out. Then I was told that Jim had attended the station where he did not deny the relationship but called ‘consensual.’ I know that he was thrown, nervous and hoped it ruined at least his day. I suspect he was then able to shelve it, as he always had.
One strange aspect to Jim’s interview is that his legal representative, by sheer coincidence, happened to be John, my first boyfriend in 1974, and someone I had been forced to lie to also in order to protect my secret. He had to recuse himself when he realised that the person bringing the charges was me. Hell of a way to find out why your girlfriend finished with you.
I did develop feelings for Jim, undoubtedly, and continued to see him over many years, returning home from university twice a week to babysit for him, just to see him for ten minutes during the lift home.
But can a child really consent? I don’t believe so. I was groomed, coerced, and I remember two occasions when he force fed me alcohol. I lost my virginity in his car (TBO 440H) and spent so many grubby occasions over the gear stick, enduring yet another push on the back of my head as the signal to perform yet another sex act.
When people ask, ‘What took you so long to report it?’ to me it’s very easy, and the reasons are many. I was very confused, and confusion turned to feeling flattered. My parents were having a bad time because Dad’s business was going under, and Jim provided an oasis from the rows and stress at home.
One girl (the one who had been Tina’s replacement) had to leave the school when the teacher denied anything untoward had taken place. Pupils had seen their clandestine meetings enough to know the truth, yet he held onto his job.
So not being believed would have been the most obvious response growing up in a narrow-minded Welsh town in which authority figures were perceived as gods. Years earlier, I had also returned from a church weekend away and complained to my parents about the behaviour of guest speaker Jimmy Savile. I was sent to my room and told off for ‘being nasty about that nice man on the TV.’
And I believe that until I spoke with the police, I was forever infantilised – forever 16. Always a child. I think it is no coincidence that I have never lived with anyone, never been married and have had no family of my own.
I decided not to pursue the case and dropped it, although the information will always be a matter of police record that can be returned to at any time. I knew that the law was very different in 1974 and I felt too exposed at the thought of my diaries being pored over and shared with a jury and lawyers. The main reason, though, was that I am writing a book about my experiences and would not have been able to write or speak about anything to do with an ongoing court case.
I felt freer after the interview, though: as if I was saying goodbye to the child and welcoming my new life as an adult. I cannot speak more highly of the South Wales Police, whose sensitivity and matter-of-factness made the whole experience a lot less painful than it might otherwise have been. I was heard. Believed. And maybe that, rather than punishment for Jim, was infinitely more valuable.
I could finally say goodbye to a man I now see as a sad, deeply flawed individual who preyed on others to validate his own pathetic sense of self.
Would a change in the law have protected me? Probably. It’s certainly a discussion worth having.