Updated: Aug 7
In 2019, 4 former teachers and the chaplain from the boarding school I went to were jailed for sexual abuse. I could name you several others, who have escaped prosecution at this time.
The campaign was begun by one very courageous woman and was picked up by Sussex Police who asked for children ( predominately now in their 40s and 50s) to come forward. The momentum began as more and more names came forward and police reports were taken. This was incredibly hard for many victims who were vulnerable children at the time, growing up in an institution without love and therefore primed for any form of affection from these prying adults.
As a child growing up in this environment there was an awareness that this was going on. There was a pedophile ring at school and it was known that boys were invited into particular teacher's studies, with the lure of alcohol. If anyone was struggling emotionally at the school, you would be sent to the chaplain to receive pastoral care. Somehow the chaplain and his friends also managed to hand pick children and take them away to the South of France, under the guise of a reading group.
Children who were unable to go home at half term could be palmed out to other members of this ring, namely the Bishop of Lewes - Peter Ball, who was also convicted of sexual abuse in 2015. I have a photo of myself alongside him as he oversaw my confirmation aged 11.
My history teacher who is now imprisoned had many "relationships" with girls. Again, I had an inkling, that there were rumours, but nothing was absolutely certain. My PE teacher was always "creepy." He is now imprisoned. My physics teacher, who killed himself before going to trial, used to show us videos of himself on holiday in his nudist camps. We thought he was just a bit weird and it was funny.
About 10 years ago, I went to a talk by Joy Schaverein about Boarding School Syndrome with a friend of mine from school, and Joy spoke about the sexual abuse that may have occurred at these schools. We both turned to each other and said, "It did happen, didn't it?" It was really only then it dawned on us both how we had absorbed all this and it was normalised and nobody had spoken out about it.
When I first saw the pictures and the names in the newspapers, it had a huge impact on me. It was real. It wasn't all in our heads. I was working for a sexual abuse charity at the time in London and it was all very raw for me. Finally, the children were getting justice and a huge whelm of emotion surged at that time. Predominantly anger. Anger towards the perpetrators and anger towards all those other teachers for turning a blind eye and allowing this to happen. I still struggle to this day with that. If we knew, they must have known, so why did nobody speak out? Why was this deemed ok? In the trial of one of these teachers who began a relationship with a young girl, the argument was that she consented. She wanted it.
Children sent away to these schools have to fend for themselves from such a young age. There is no parent there to dry their tears, reassure them, cook them tea, read them a story, to alleviate their fears. Their attachments are broken with their parents and relationships often take on a formal way of relating. News sent home may be about how well they did in their English exam, or on the hockey field, but rarely is there the closeness that comes with growing up alongside your parents which may enable you to share the difficulties you may be experiencing. Especially if the message you have received is that this school is the best thing for you, and it may have cost them a lot of money to send you there.
So, no wonder a father figure can come along, show you some kindness, make you feel special and important and you want more of it. There is a void and a child is desperate to feel loved and cared for. This is how grooming works. The adult then brings in sexual acts, which is confusing for the child as they want the love and the affection and are often told this is part of it, and are then left with the shame of having done so, which silences them. This is not their shame to bear, but that of the adult who inflicts this on the child to satisfy their own desire.
So, was I abused? The answer is no. When people know about the abuse at my school, I sense that quizzical look in their eyes. For many years I would say, "It didn't happen to me, it's fine."
IT IS NOT FINE.
Growing up in a boarding school in which sexual abuse was very prevalent within its culture has a huge impact on all children. As a child, you pick up on the sexual predatory energy of these teachers. You are unable to understand, why are those children chosen for those special weekends away and not me. Why are they getting the special attention and not me? This can impact your self-esteem. As an adult in my 20s, I noticed a propensity to gravitate toward those who made me feel "special." A boarding school takes the place of a family. In a family, if one child is abused, it has an impact on the remaining siblings. The same goes for boarding school. I have no intention of making a comparison to those who were victims of the abuse from the teachers, but it is important to recognise the systemic and long-lasting impacts of sexual abuse in these institutions as a whole.
I grew up with a fear of male authority figures, seeking their validation and support on one hand, yet feeling uneasy about it on the other hand. It was confusing. Trust. How can you trust an authority figure, when those who were supposed to look after you, crossed those boundaries? Many children who went to boarding school grow up with hypervigilance that continues into adulthood and can make it very hard to open up, allow yourself to get close to someone, and let down your defences. No wonder...
The brutal thing about all this is the belief in our society that those children who go to boarding school are privileged. This has contributed to the silencing of so much pain that children have endured in these schools and are often left with crippling internal shame.
It is incredibly traumatic for these grown children to take the stand and speak out against the schools and the teachers for the abuse they experienced.
To all those who have done so, and continue to do so, I support you and thank you.