Child abuse- a client’s powerful story

This blog is about a topic that seems to be in and out of the media lately- that of institutional child abuse.

I have had the pleasure of working with a client recently who has given me full permission to tell his story, because he sees it as his way of achieving release and resolution. He has read this and given me full approval to publish it as it is. I will call him F.

F is a male, mid 60s, who went to school during the 50’s and 60’s.

When the time came for him to go to senior school at the age of 11, his parents sent him to a fairly well known all-boys public school. This was not cheap, but they wanted him to have the best education possible.

Now at this school, before the first year pupils started, they were all taken to a special camp. The purpose of this camp was to encourage the boys to get to know each other through physical activities, and also go through various tests so they could be allocated to the correct level of classes when they started school in earnest. Sounds like a good idea.

So he arrived, dragging his case behind him, and was taken by one of the teachers to where he would be sleeping. This was a static camp, with barracks-style wooden sleeping huts, each hut contained 5 bunk beds with sleeping for 10 boys.

When he got to his hut, the teacher opened the door and ushered him in. To his surprise, there were around six boys in the hut already, and all of them were naked. The teacher obviously saw, but didn’t say or do anything. On the top bunk closest to the door, the boy was not only naked, he was openly masturbating.

So 11 year-old F was totally confused and surprised by this. He was to discover that all the boys were expected to run around naked when they were playing outside. All the teachers for the year were there including the headmaster, and some of the teachers were taking photographs of the boys. F remembers being frightened and totally bemused. But he was pressured by being the ‘odd one out’, and so with a lot of nervousness he had to join in.

This was a culture of homosexuality that was to run through his time at the school, especially in the early years. At night in the camp the boys would be naked again, and masturbate themselves, sometimes each other. Every boy was expected to join in.

This was a huge shock, let’s not forget F was just 11 and most of these boys had not started puberty.

A bigger shock came when F found out that some of the teachers had a special way of waking the boys up in the morning, by putting a hand down their sleeping bag and touching the boys intimately.

F felt uncomfortable, scared, and totally powerless. It seemed that the whole school including teachers accepted this as normal, and if you didn’t play along, you were being difficult. The other children had noticed his nervousness and laughed at him about it.

This culture diminished in later years at the school, it mainly seemed to be prevalent amongst the first two years. F realised that 3 of the male teachers were actively involved. Later on, he found that these teachers liked one boy in particular, who seemed to get a lot of lunchtime detentions in locked classrooms. This particular boy left the school after a couple of years, maybe because his parents had realised what was happening.

The school had a tradition of outdoor camps, and during these camps the same behaviour was repeated. The boys were woken up early, had to go swimming naked, the showers and toilets had no doors or cubicles, and it seemed to be the same three teachers who were supervising.

As an adult, F thought that he had moved on from this, and told me that he doesn’t count it as too important. Until he starts to talk about it. Then he gets very sad, but also very angry, angry that some teachers stood by and did nothing while a small group of male teachers actively molested boys. Even back then, this was illegal, it was wrong and it should never have happened.

Stories like F’s will continue to emerge because any situation where an adult has power over someone weaker, or smaller, has the potential for abuse built into it. If it goes unchecked it starts to spread, and a culture of secrecy, hidden abuse and violence starts to build.

ALL institutions have this potential for abuse built in. It can only be prevented by robust vigilance from the top down, and all the way through the organisation. This vigilance must never cease, as soon as it does the evil of abuse will sneak in and the whole process begin. It is a never-ending fight.

F is not a psychological wreck, but this situation has certainly added to other issues that he has built up over time. He doesn’t want to do any more than read these words. The people concerned are probably dead, and he doesn’t want to hurt their families by making claims that can’t be defended. He has kept this secret for 50 years.

I cannot reveal any more about F, his words have been given to me in confidence and with his full permission to publish his experience in this blog only as a lesson that others may learn from, and perhaps recent abuse victims can have the strength to come forwards.

Abuse is not ‘normal’.

It is not ‘character building’.

It is not ‘fun’.

It is not ‘boys will be boys’.