I was scrolling through Facebook the other day when I happened across a headline that read
“Emmerdale grooming victim actor Joe Warren Plant, 16, in real-life relationship with 22 year old model”
It was a slow life kind of day so I decided to click the link.
It turns out that 16 year old Joe Warren Plant is an actor currently playing the role of a child being groomed by his female teacher. In actual real life he is in a relationship with a woman who is six years older than him and they have been dating for two years.
“Wait what? So that means….?”
Yes, he was 14 and she was 20 when they got together (though to clarify, he has turned 17 as I write).
As I said, it was a slow life kind of day and so I decided to head to the comments – we all know that’s where the real party is at.
You can probably imagine, it made for an interesting read.
There was a lot more
Get in there lad – lucky bugger
than I had hoped there would be in the 21st century, then I reminded myself it was the internet and many people feel obliged to be idiots in this environment.
Then there were a few people declaring it sexist – if the genders had been reversed with this age gap, there would be uproar. Finally there was a small handful of voices saying
Does no one else find this all a bit…disturbing?
These were my people.
There were a few comments in agreement but by and large the general assumption was that the pocket of people who found it wrong should…
get a life because it’s none of your business, besides there’s nothing to say they’ve even had sex.
We were also reminded that a six yer age gap between a 24 year old and a 30 year old would be just fine. And they’re right, it would be fine because neither part of that relationship would be a child.
I was stunned at the refusal of folk to be bothered by the fact that an adult is in a relationship with a child – that in this instance the age gap wasn’t acceptable. A grown up was in a relationship with someone who would have been in Year 9 or 10 at SCHOOL when they met.
The article and subsequent comments raised so many questions in my entirely baffled mind:
Are people more bothered about the sexism than the child/adult relationship?
If the comments truly reflect the thoughts of the comment makers then would they be OK with their kid having a relationship with an adult?
What does a 20 year old woman have in common with a 14 year old boy who hasn’t even grown into his own face yet?
Now, I know that it is sex with a minor that is a crime and not being in a relationship with a minor. I have no idea whether their relationship was sexual or not (and though I debated it, I want to keep this post ‘light’ and so will avoid throwing the P word into the mix for now) but I still can’t understand what would make a grown woman look at a school boy and think
That kid is handsome – I want to date someone who will drink squash at the pub, can’t come out because he’s doing his homework and can only watch 12 rated films with me.
It was acceptable in the 90s
THEN I thought back to growing up in the 90s and realised this kind of age gap relationship was rife but with the genders reversed. When I was at school a lot of the girls went out with boys, nay, MEN who were considerably older than them and no one seemed bothered.
I knew of a 14 year old girl in a relationship with a man in his 20s. Both sets of parents knew about it, knew they were having sex and just let them get on with it.
HOW WEIRD DOES THAT SEEM?
I as a teenager in school, ‘dated’ someone older than myself on more than one occasion. One my parents knew about and one they didn’t – both were very short lived and neither were sexual relationships.
The first one was a ‘nice guy’ who I’d known for ages, we went bowling and met up a couple of times but quickly dumped me for someone his own age – which was the right and proper thing to do.
He was an adult and I was, lawfully speaking, a child. What on earth could we have in common? I can understand it from my point of view, it made me feel mature. It also felt nice as a teenager to think that someone older, wiser and cooler thought what I had to say was important or interesting, but I don’t know what he got from the ‘relationship’ maybe it was just a boost to his ego*.
The other made it very clear what he wanted from the relationship so it stopped very soon after it started but that was the more common type of ‘relationship’ that was going on amongst my peers and it seemed like it was largely acceptable.
Our parents and schools never spoke to us about these things, about what was a suitable age gap for a ‘suitor’, whether it is because they didn’t consider it a problem or maybe because they didn’t realise it was going on. I don’t know.
I don’t know if this is a reflection on the area I grew up in or the times I was living in but it was certainly the ‘norm’. At that time we hadn’t had the revelations of celebrity child abuse scandals, Me Too hadn’t occurred and maybe people really didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.
Maybe men in their late teens and early twenties were considered OK because after all, many of our parents had a six year age gap or started ‘dating’ when they were in their teens.
I also don’t know if my opinions are just me being older and wiser or a sign of how society has changed. Do we value our young people more these days or have a more refined opinion on what is right and wrong?
Or, as the comments on the article suggest, has nothing changed. Are there still a large amount of people who think the relationship between a child and an adult is OK once they are teenagers?
I think by writing this, I’d hoped to give myself a bit of clarity – it hasn’t worked. It has made sure that I’ll definitely be having these conversations with my children!
There are so many worm holes I could have ventured down writing this but I have tried to avoid as I knew I would need to stop writing at some point.
*Fun fact, we were at a recording studio and he whisked me to the toilet for a cheeky snog, I thought we were going to get back together. The next day he announced he was getting engaged and leaving to train to be a pastor. I had my very own, really shit, Fleabag moment.