True Love or Pedophilia?

True Love or Pedophilia?

If a worldly 15-year-old lesbian seduces her shy, small-town, straight female teacher, is it true love—or pedophilia?

When Helen Goddard, a 26-year-old British teacher, went to jail for having an affair with a 15-year-old female student in September, the U.K. media had a field day. Goddard's beauty made her front-page news, but the curious facts of the case have kept people talking.

For starters, the student admitted initiating the affair, and Goddard claimed she'd been pressured by the girl. A popular trumpet teacher known as the "jazz lady" to her pupils, Goddard had previously been in heterosexual relationships.

The lovers also came from different worlds. The student, who is anonymous because of her age, was a pupil at the exclusive City of London School for Girls, where the girls are as smart as they are sophisticated. Goddard, however, was unworldly and immature, her small-town childhood revolving around music and church.

The relationship began over coffee last winter and progressed to flirty texts and a trip to Paris. When schoolyard gossip reached a fever pitch, the headmistress called the police, who raided Goddard's flat and found sex toys and a pair of fluffy handcuffs. She was arrested in July 2009.

The press covered the case with vigor, leaving observers conflicted: Should they salivate, sympathize, or sermonize? Some say a prison sentence is inappropriate, as Goddard is hardly a typical pedophile. Others argue that she's a sexual predator.

Weeping as she pleaded guilty to sex with a child, Goddard couldn't have looked less like a criminal. Now she's behind bars for 15 months, with her name on a sex-offender registry. She can never work with kids again.

One thing everyone agrees on: the odd parallel with the 2006 film Notes on a Scandal, in which a London art teacher gets busted for having sex with a student. But real life is harsher. As Goddard's father says, ìit has destroyed everything she has worked so hard to achieve.î Goddard says the romance will keep rolling when the girl turns 16 (the legal age of consent in the U.K.) and when Goddard gets out of the clink.

READ MORE: How the Web has made it easy for sex-hungry teachers to hook up with their students.