Writer and broadcaster

A teacher sexually abused me at primary school for years. The Guardian.

Dear Annalisa

From the age of seven to 11, I was sexually and physically abused by my teacher. He carried out most of this in front of the class. He would act out a Bible story and use me as a volunteer and end the story by kissing me, he would grope me and get me to sit on his lap, he would read a story aloud each day and act out the content, and the manner in which he did it meant that none of my classmates, bar one girl who always tried to defend me, thought anything unusual was going on.

When I went to secondary school, I was badly bullied and I blocked out what had happened previously. But for most of my adolescence, I was miserable and terrified of men. When I finally did enter into a serious relationship, I woke up one morning and suddenly remembered everything my teacher had done. My then boyfriend was very supportive, but this was 10 years ago and neither of us knew what to do about it. I went into self-destruct mode. It has taken me years to accept that physical contact with men I like is OK.

I have been to see counsellors, but none of them was helpful until one this year who said perhaps it was time to report this teacher. But my experiences so far have been horrific. I spoke to a “specialist service”, which seemed annoyed that I had contacted them because the abuse didn’t become rape. When I reported it to the police, they were casual about the whole thing, as if I were reporting a minor theft. They kept passing me back and forth and didn’t return calls.

On top of this, I was told that it is very unlikely that they will be able to secure a conviction (even though they have done no investigation work so far). When I do speak to them, I am given no real care or support. I feel as if I have been betrayed by the people who are meant to help me and am terrified that I’m being forced into a corner, in that I may have to admit what happened to my parents and deal with the potential blowback if they don’t believe I’m telling the truth.

I feel utterly alone with nobody to turn to. This man made me suffer for years and I want justice for that, but I feel I’ve opened a huge can of worms by trying to be brave and report it, and I would be very grateful for any advice.

I’m so sorry to hear about what you have been through. It is not unusual for victims of child abuse to be unable to talk about the abuse until they are in a relatively safe place. To then do so and not be heard is indeed a betrayal.

You don’t say which specialist service you contacted. I spoke to the National Association for People Abused in Childhoood (napac.org.uk, 0808 801 0331) and the NSPCC (nspcc.org.uk, 0808 800 5000) about your letter, and it is with their help that I am answering.

What your teacher did is classic abuser behaviour; they abuse in plain sight (not all abuse is behind closed doors) and no one will believe the victim if he or she tries to say anything: typical silencing behaviour.

I’m glad you have found a helpful counsellor – many, as you have discovered, are not equipped to deal with abuse issues and can cause more harm by saying the wrong thing. I hope you are still seeing the counsellor?

You can get additional emotional support by calling organisations such as Napac, the Survivor’s Trust (thesurvivorstrust.org, 0808 801 0818), or the NSPCC. Not only can you talk through things with someone on the helpline, but they can put you in touch with local support services and talk you through what you may (or may not) want to do next, especially with regard to the police. Please try them.

The police reaction is not OK. You can go back and say you are not satisfied. I know this may not be easy. Your case should have been referred to the child abuse investigation team, but it may not have been picked up by them. However, your complaint should have been referred, at the very least, to a police officer who understands the dynamics of sexual abuse. Even if they can’t get a conviction (and they should not be telling victims they may not be able to), they should have investigated properly. The police should also have checked with the local authority’s designated officer to see if this man is still teaching. He may still have access to children.

The organisations I mention have lots of useful information on their websites which, I hope, will make you realise you are far from alone. Also, could you contact the girl who tried to stand up for you? She may help to validate what happened, both personally and legally.

 

This article first appeared in the Guardian Family section on 20 November 2015.