First things first. Before I even start, let me make quite clear that I’m not in need of sympathy from this post. I haven’t thought of the incidents described here for years and was only reminded because I started reading this New Yorker article, which has striking similarities. Any emotional scarring was either dealt with yonks ago or replaced by other emotional bullshit. I write this simply to point out how easy it is for people in power to get away with abusing vulnerable people. And how it doesn’t just happen with the Jimmy Saviles of this world, but bloody everywhere.
When I was in third year junior school (that’s 9/10 years old), I was placed in the class of Mr D. Every pupil in the school knew that Mr D was, in our schoolyard language, a massive perv. Girls leaving his class warned those of us coming in: watch yourselves. When you went up to his desk with some work, he had a fondness for putting his arm around you, pulling you in close, and putting his hand on your arse for a good old squeeze, or rubbing his hand up and down your back (to see if we were wearing bras yet? I don’t know).
I repeat: we were 9 and 10 years old. We knew something wasn’t quite right and we knew we didn’t like it, but we had no idea what to do about it and certainly no idea that it was the kind of thing someone could possibly be arrested for. Eventually, after several months, we had a conflab and decided that if we squeezed our bum cheeks together the next time he was having a grope, really tightened them up, it would send a message. And it did. The bum groping stopped but the hugging and the rubbing carried on. So we started standing several feet away from the desk and resisting when he tried to pull us in. I think it took about six months for him to give up altogether.
We moved up a year, we warned the girls coming in. Did we think about telling another teacher? No. Why? I don’t think we realised it was something we needed to. He was a grown up, right? It was weird and horrible and pervy, but it couldn’t have been wrong. And thinking back, it was such common knowledge around the school that I’d be highly surprised if a rumour or two hadn’t reached the ears of another teacher. And it all seemed to be fine. He had two sons, older than us, who’d been at the same school. He lived in the village, a pillar of the community. It must be fine, right?
Let’s move on five years. It was lunchtime and some moron boy came up and grabbed the breasts of one of my friends. I got very angry and shoved him away. It really upset me, and it wasn’t until I got home that I thought about Mr D, started crying and told my parents. I don’t recall them getting outraged but they did call my school and speak to my head of year, Mrs B – because, you see, Mr D was a parent governor at my high school, so even my current teachers knew him. I think my parents thought Mrs B would know what to do.
The next day I had a chat with Mrs B. I don’t remember much about that either, apart from being very embarrassed and perhaps not going into much detail. I felt a bit stupid, like I was making a mountain out of a molehill. Because it must have all been fine, right? Nobody would let a man like that be in charge of 15 girls of 9 and 10 years of age. I have no idea if Mrs B did anything with the information (I should point out – as if you were in any doubt – that I was one of the most trusted pupils in my school, a responsible, swotty, spoddy kid not given to making trouble. If you’re looking for a reliable witness, I am it). But I know that Mr D continued as parent governor and, as far as I know, was still teaching at my old junior school when I left the area at 21.
I don’t know if Mr D ever went further than groping little girls through their clothes. I don’t know if that would have been enough to get him sacked (though the NSPCC seems to think so). I don’t know if any of my friends ever said anything. I didn’t tell any of them that I was talking to Mrs B. I don’t know if any of the girls he groped experienced lasting emotional problems because of what he did. I tried my best. I spoke up. Nothing happened. Once or twice since I’ve thought about trying again, but I have no idea if I’d be believed after all this time, whether anyone would care (were we raped? Were they the ‘worst kind of sexual offences‘? No? Then shut up), or whether I could actually go through a court case if it came to it.
So there you go. It really is that simple. When it comes to a trusted adult and some kids, there’s only ever going to be one winner. Either because the kids are too naive to tell anyone what happened, or because they assume it’s already known and therefore must be OK, or because when they do nobody listens anyway.