This blog has been 2 years in the making. Or actually, it’s probably 50 years.
And it’s the toughest thing I’ve ever had to write.
So where shall we start?
Let’s start with a young man, who left school, went straight into university, then got an extra qualification as a teacher. I’m sure his head was fizzing with great ideas about how he could mentor his students and watch them grow into successful adults. He had a stroke of luck too, because the first job he applied for was in a prestigious public school, and much to his surprise, he got the job.
So off he went to work, full of hope, enthusiasm and energy.
But, something went wrong. It could have been when he was supervising a PE class. Perhaps there was a bit of a commotion in the changing room, and so he went in, and stopped in his tracks, because in front of him, almost in touching distance, were a couple of dozen naked or half naked boys. Some were getting dressed, some were showering, and a couple were fighting.
Perhaps he had to separate those two boys who were fighting, and as he grappled with them, something inside him woke up. Maybe, after the boys had gone, he sat there in the empty changing room, realising that being a teacher, an adult and a huge authority figure meant that he could legitimately walk in and out of the changing room as he pleased.
Then one day soon after, he was tasked with taking these boys to a camp, a long way out in the countryside and miles from anywhere. It was a fixed camp, huts for the boys, an open shower block, a larger hut that acted as a dining room, and a swimming hole at the bottom of the hill.
An idea grew within him. Young boys don’t have the emotional intelligence of an adult, they are very likely to obey an authority. So he suggested that the boys bathe every morning in the swimming hole naked, and that meant of course that he could supervise. There were leeches in the pool, so any boy that picked up a leech would need his ‘help’ to remove it. After the swimming, he would then ‘supervise’ the boys in the shower, no cubicles of course, and no doors on the toilets.
Finally in the camp he took the biggest risk so far. In the morning he would knock on the hut doors to wake the boys up. On this day, he went into a hut, approached a bunk where a boy was sleeping. And molested him. They boy woke up, froze, and said nothing. He’d got away with it!
Later, in the days that followed, back at school, he realised he could even get away with sitting next to a boy in class and groping him. The boys were too scared to say anything. ‘Telling tales’ was not the done thing, and that culture has saved many a bully and molester from punishment.
The boys all knew what he was. As the years went on, the boys would warn their younger brothers, and eventually even their sons about this man. Because this man stayed at the school, leading a double life of teacher, father, husband on the one hand, and child molester on the other.
The boys he assaulted didn’t ‘grow out of it’, they didn’t get over it, they lived a lifetime with the memory of that horrible man and the feel of his hands touching them. He was finally brought to court 50 years later, when one of his victims had a serious breakdown.
And protested his innocence, even after he was found guilty.
His victims had received a life sentence.
That’s not the end of it, because he wasn’t acting in a vacuum. The school had a reputation for sexualised behaviour. At the start of Year 7, all the boys went off to a camp. It was by the sea, comprising sleeping huts and a main hall.
The purpose of the camp was to help the boys get to know each other, and to take a series of tests so they could be put into the right groups and forms when school started in earnest.
On the very first day, a teacher took me to my hut. It had 5 bunk beds in. When the teacher opened the door, the first thing I saw was a naked boy on a top bunk masturbating. Two other boys were naked and hugging each other. The teacher said nothing.
The next day, during free time, I was astonished to find that it was expected that all the boys strip off and run around naked. The teachers didn’t seem to care, in fact one of the adults was taking photos.
I was 11.
At night, all the boys in the hut played sex games.
I was 11.
Needless to say, bullying was rife within the school and quite often had a sexual theme. One of my friends was bullied mercilessly, on one occasion he was attacked in the toilets and had orange peel forced into his anus. Another favourite was forced shaving of private parts. The worst bullies tended to belong to the cadets, and the adult in charge of the cadets was also in charge of discipline in the school. So none of his boys ever got dealt with.
I am sure that even the good teachers knew what was happening. Even the headmaster knew. They all did nothing.
I loved the education my school gave me, but I hated the school itself. Even now, if I could, I would burn it to the ground. Even now, 50 years later, the thought of school makes me feel sick.
Institutional abuse is rife throughout the world. It can be psychological torture, physical or sexual. It is BUILT IN to ALL institutions, because these are places where people have power over others- schools, hospitals, care homes, churches, clubs, workplaces, homes and so on. It is BUILT IN, so it cannot be fought just with a nicely worded policy, it must be actively sought out, dragged into the daylight and perpetrators punished.
Even now, 50 years later, and after innumerable publicised incidents, it seems that nothing has changed. THE ONLY WAY TO STOP THIS IS TO STAMP IT OUT. Treat it like an infection, surgically remove the problem, cauterise it. Don’t cover it with a plaster and say ‘Lessons have been learned.’
OK. That’s the ranting bit.
Why am I writing this? Because everyone needs to keep their eyes open. Question what you see. Tell someone if you have suspicions. Ask your kids about their day at school, don’t accept it when someone says ‘Oh, it’s OK, he’s always a bit touchy-feely, he doesn’t mean anything by it’. Encourage whistleblowers, have a proper and robust confidential employee communication system, take accusations seriously.
We all have the responsibility to act. We always did.