How I survived sexual abuse and eventually found help
Important and brave story by Steve Edwards about his experiences of abuse at school. Contains stories with may be triggering for some readers.
I had a normal happy go lucky childhood. Wonderful parents and siblings and a comfortable home. I always struggled academically at school – I had undiagnosed (till later) severe dyslexia, slow memory processing disorder and other associated learning difficulties. I was often bullied due to being “slower than the rest”.
At the age of 13 I was sent to boarding school. I guess you could say I was one of the privileged few in the country to do so.
On the first evening there I was stripped naked by a group of 8 prefects who then proceeded to kick me and laugh at my foetal form. “Circle of Death” they called it – some sort of initiation progress and I was the one they chose in the “new boys”.
I spent the next 8 weeks of term locking myself in a cupboard whenever break or any free time came up. It was not such a brave new world but a terrifying one. I used to phone my parents on a weekly basis in tears begging them to take me home and, in a 13 year old way, trying to offer up other solutions to my current schooling. I don’t feel they were being unkind by keeping me there – they are wonderful parents and boarding school had been fantastic to my two brothers – I think they merely thought I was going through some “teething” problems.
During that time one of the masters, our middle aged RE tutor, offered me what seemed like a parental shoulder and friendly words of advice. He seemed kind and always looked out for me. One day he said that he would give me some additional help in some of my school work.
He invited me to his house that evening and said we could go through the work together as well as talk about my forthcoming confirmation. When I arrived he greeted me and sat me down offering me a “proper” drink – a Gin and Tonic. He then offered me a cigarette telling me that most of the boys smoked and told me that he’d taped my favourite program, Top of The Pops. What a legend! More drinks followed and more cigarettes. At some point the program ended and a bizarre medical documentary about male anatomy started which he wanted to discuss and made me feel very uncomfortable. He sat next to me on the sofa and said he wanted to show me his house…
I don’t really want to go into details about what happened over the next 2 hours but I was subjected to some pretty horrific sexual abuse (think of the worst kind and you’ve got the picture). After he had finished the teacher took out his Polaroid camera and took photos of me. He showed me a shoebox where he put them along with numerous photos of other students. He said we were part of a special club and I was now like him.
In the following months and year my grades tanked. Well in all but one subject. The subject he taught. I had to sit in his lessons with him knowingly smiling at me while trying to coax me down to his house again.
During the Summer my parents took me on an outing in the UK – I can’t remember where it was but as we sat down in the restaurant I looked up and there was the master queuing up to get some food. I was terrified. I made an excuse and went to the loos desperate that he didn’t see me. I stood at the urinals shaking when he came in and stood beside me. He smiled and tried to reach out and touch my genitals. I shouted at him and walked away.
I sat next to my parents and to my horror he came and said hello to my parents and I then spent an agonising 10 minutes panicking that he was going to tell my parents of what I had done. Isn’t it absurd how the mind works when you are young? During the conversation he said to my parents that I was doing really well at school and he wanted to invite me and some other boys on a barge boat holiday with himself. Something I managed to convince my parents I didn’t want to do at all when he left.
I haven’t been able to stand at a urinal since that day – the subject of much banter with “lad friends” since, when I have to disappear into the sit down loo for a pee.
At the age of 13 I started smoking, drinking heavily, taking drugs and sniffing aerosols daily. Basically looking back I think I was trying to do everything to raise attention or finish myself off without actually blowing the whistle. I couldn’t tell my parents. I didn’t have the skills and I convinced myself that, because I was too scared to put up a fight or run away, that in some way I must have deserved what happened to me. The shame and embarrassment was too much. My parents eventually removed me from the school at the age of 15 and moved me to a local day school where I managed to screw up most of my qualifications but at least felt safe.
The master was kept on at the school for a further 4-5 years where apparently a parent complained about his behaviour with their son and he was moved on.
My teenage years were filled with fear and depression . I was so scared to go out with a girl or have sex for fear of the fact I wasn’t normal and that I was holding onto a massive secret. I questioned my sexuality because I let this happen. I was terrified of girls and felt threatened and subordinate to boys/men. I eventually plucked up the courage to start dating the girl of my dreams, got married and we have gone on to have a wonderful family of 3 children. I have a lot to be grateful for.
I wish I could say that was the end of the story but about 6 years ago I walked into my local pub with a friend. When I was buying a pint I looked across the bar and there standing opposite was my abuser. You’d think that would have been my opportunity to confront him and inform the police but it was like I was transformed to being 13 years old again. I wish I could explain the level of fear that hit me as a 45 year old man. I started shaking, explained I wasn’t feeling well at all and left.
5 weeks later I heard from my old school via a newsletter that the teacher had passed away shortly after I saw him (I like to imagine he saw me too and the shock killed him) The school were going to honour him with a service. I wrote anonymously to the headmaster explaining what had happened and stating that whilst I wished to stay anonymous it would not be appropriate to hold a service in his memory when he had in fact destroyed my childhood (to this day I have virtually no memory of my life before the age of 13).
The following weeks, months and years were tough. Really bad nightmares, low self-esteem, depression and panic attacks to name a few. In the news it was the time of The Saville Enquiry and all of the other cases coming out of the woodwork. I couldn’t escape from it.
Around 3 years ago, at the tender age of 48, I finally broke down and explained to my saint of a wife what had happened. With her support I found a psychiatrist who in turn diagnosed D.I.D., CPTSD and Adhedonia. I found a really strong and kind therapist that came via SurvivorsUK. It’s been a pretty gruelling 3 years, and I’d be a liar if I said I hadn’t had some extremely dark times. But talking to someone twice a week, some pretty decent antidepressants and finally opening up to my wife is starting to provide some relief.
In amongst all the chaos there have been some moments of light. I am doing the job of my dreams. I have started my own Post 16 Specialist College where, with a wonderful team of tutors and support staff , we help turn around vulnerable and disadvantaged young adults, build their self-esteem and get them into work.
I have always felt a huge amount of shame and guilt about never telling anyone what happened and never helping other boys this would have happened to at my school after me. The shoebox of photos of other victims still haunts me daily but if I can make up for it by helping others one by one then I make some small step in repairing my own mind.
The reason for writing all of this?
Apparently 1 in 6 boys suffers from some sexual abuse before the age of 16. It takes on average 26 years for those boys to come forward and talk to someone.
Many don’t come forward at all. Many don’t make it and succumb to the darkness that at times all consumes me.
If this post helps one of you that this may have happened to then it’s not been a post in vein. Please, please reach out and if it would help, share my story.
You can come forward anonymously. You can contact the fantastic Survivors UK. You can call The Samaritans. There is also The Truth Project which the Government set up as part of the IICSA. I found this incredibly liberating as you can meet with officials and tell your account of what has happened.
And if you’re reading this and know of someone that abuse has happened to then a small tip:
Please don’t judge. Please listen and offer support. As a bloke (and when I say this I am not meaning to degrade any women victims in any way – I know you have suffered equally) it takes all the strength to be able to talk about this. By simply saying “I’m here if and when you want to talk” and just being there for them could in fact save someone’s life.
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