The Curious Case of Helen Goddard

Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair.

For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew.

There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen was guilty of breach of trust, that of unsuspecting parents allowing their teenage daughter a night-out with her female music teacher, and of responsibility, towards her pupil given the likely unsustainability of the relationship.

But, then, there is something more. Let's talk about the same-sex angle here. Helen Goddard would have been put to death in Victorian times. In early 50s, the British Computer Science pioneer and war hero Alan Turing was humiliated because of a same sex relationship, which led to his suicide eventually [Gordon Brown recently issued an apology, about 55 years too late]. Same sex relationship was only legalised in Britain in 1967, but it indeed seems that our prejudices do not always go away with legislations, only that they take a different shape and form. I am not sure whether the ambivalence towards the Lesbian relationships played a part in Helen Goddard's case [as opposed to a heterosexual scenario], but I am sure the shock with which some commentators denounced the 'sexual abuse' has some elements of disapproval to the nature of it.

Besides, the age of consent is another issue. It took us 23 years to talk about equalising the age of consent for all forms of relationship after legalizing gay sex, and another 10 years before it could be passed into law. But indeed, by the time this is legalized, childhood has receded even further. Indeed, most children are well educated in all the lures and tragedies of life by age of 16, and as this case, as well as many others, will show, the age of consent is again coming under stress.

I am not necessarily in favour of lowering the age of consent, but I do not for sure whether Helen Goddard will look like a villain or a wronged lover in fifteen years time. In an ideal world, we should all protect the innocence of the children for a little while longer. But, this is not an ideal world, and there are far more powerful villains in this story of stolen innocence than one lovesick music teacher.

And, indeed, a society can not aim to protect childhood for some children while allowing others to live a miserable, exposed life. So, as long as we don't buy into the principle that all children, including the 15 year old in £13,000 a year exclusive girls' school and the toddler born to the illegal immigrant toiling away in East London [and, may I add the 8 year old who toils away her day in a garment factory in Asia], have the same right to childhood and innocence, these punishments will mean nothing.

So, for the moment, we shall feel safe by giving Helen Goddard an exemplary punishment. However, very little will change except the love being denied to two normal, lovesick, though immature and irresponsible, people.


Anonymous said…
I know the papers say she's a devout Christian, but she's not. Her parents are, but she isn't.

It doesn't really change much, but I thought I'd give you the exclusive!
Anonymous said…
Hi, I studied anthropology and sexual identity was a large part of the course. I would just like to point out to you that in actual fact although male homosexuality was illegal during the ictorian era, female omosexuality was not. It was in fact completely ignored. Various 'romantic friendships' were recorded between females but because there was no act of penile penetration the governmnt of the era did not see lesbian forms of sexual intercourse as actually being sex.
good night..I am criminal judge in my country colombia..en the minor's consent in sexual relationships are permitted from fourteen ... and not increased by the ratio of confianza..excepto when it comes to sexual harassment or incest. in conclusion ... helen was in the wrong for falling in love with a 16 años..en my country Colombia will not be imputed country is an offense against professional ethics on the part of both .... and would disciplinary sanctioned at a school in my country ... but never the teacher would go to jail

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