Many of you who know me will be vaguely aware of some sort of immense darkness in my childhood, one that I’ve rarely explained except to a chosen few.
Here, in case you were interested, is a fuller explanation of all that. I should warn you in advance, it’s not a pleasant read, and is potentially upsetting – particularly for any of you who might have had your own early-life traumas to contend with.
I grew up in Surrey. These days it’s basically Bland Commuter Helltown, but back then my home town was simply a medium-sized, fairly inconsequential point on the map between London and the south coast.
My first few years were fairly ordinary, tricky but by no means traumatic: an alcoholic but generally well-meaning father and an overworked mother desperately trying to raise five sons and run a business almost single-handedly. I have a lot of early memories of my parents arguing or my dad passed out in his underwear on the living room floor and my mum away at a business meeting – but there were happy times too.
With the family business doing quite well, my parents decided to send me, aged five, to a private all-boys primary school. My three older brothers had largely been state educated – the youngest of them was the first to have any sort of private education (having been sent to boarding school at age thirteen) or university tuition. His private education had done him good, so it seemed like a logical choice for me and my little brother.
The school my parents chose was nearby, with a solid reputation and – importantly for my parents – it did “prep”. Homework at school, basically. So our school day would run until 6pm (as well as, for a while, a half day on Saturdays), with sports every day and then prep. It had, apparently, been such a struggle getting my older brothers to do their homework that this prep idea seemed fantastic to my parents, who eagerly sent both my younger brother and me there.
My first few years at the 120-place school were uneventful; it was an ordinary 1980s/1990s private school, rampant bullying, comically terrible food, compulsory sports – even for the skinny weird-looking kids like me.
In 1992, with me aged ten, our wonderful Maths/Music teacher Mr Lister left the school. He was one of those people who was just born to teach – a lovely man and a great teacher – but he and his wife (who taught in the junior school) had fallen out with the Headmaster for some reason. If memory serves, it was due to a pay dispute.
Mr Lister’s replacement, the Reverend Doctor Pennant (or “Rev Trev”), taught at the school for a few terms before he basically exploded. He was fired for hitting two pupils; he slapped one across the face and threw another against a wall.
He was immediately replaced as Head of Music by Mr Spicer, a somewhat odd man who seemed to live his life in slow motion – walking incredibly slowly, speaking incredibly slowly, smoking cigars incredibly slowly. He had to leave after he tried to lift the grand piano on his own (presumably incredibly slowly) and did his back in.
The school had gotten through two Heads of Music in one academic year, and now the school and its production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (in which I played Guard 2) were looking for another.
The man they found was a 40-ish, podgy, brusque Yorkshireman named David Allen. He was hired mid-term by the Headmaster Mr Cassell and basically told to get on with it.
Had they background-checked him, they would have found that David Allen, their new Head of Music, had sexually assaulted a male teenage hitchhiker some years earlier.
They did not.
Instead, they gave him unsupervised access to every child in the school.
Remember those compulsory sports I mentioned? Every afternoon we’d have a sports session, followed by “change back”, during which boys aged 5 – 13 would pile into the changing room, shower in the communal showers and get changed from their sports clothes back into their school uniforms, before going to tea (juice and biscuits) and then prep.
The set-up of “change back” was basically a small-ish room with dozens of naked boys in it, supervised by one member of staff on his/her own.
Most members of staff hated being that one staff member. Because let’s face it, it’s embarrassing – most grown-ups don’t want to be the only adult in a room full of naked children.
Not Mr Allen.
Within months of arriving at the school, Mr Allen had managed to fix it such that he supervised no fewer than three of the five weekly “change back” sessions: Monday’s, Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s.
None of the other staff saw this as suspicious.
I was eleven when he started supervising change back sessions, and was still slightly too young to work out whatwas going on. It wasn’t until Mr Allen took a personal interest in me that I eventually realised what he was.
I was exceptionally musical as a child – when I was seven I had qualified for Mensa membership and they’d basically told my parents “buy him instruments!” so they did. I played three instruments by age eleven (piano, clarinet, saxophone) and Mr Allen had suggested that as one of his “star pupils” I be given private lessons by him, so that I might become the school’s new church organist. The local church was a gorgeous medieval one with a powerhouse of an organ, and I thought it’d be cool to be playing it. I hadn’t yet worked out what Mr Allen was, so I said I’d go along.
My mum found out that I was being considered for private lessons with Mr Allen and was immediately worried, insisting that my Dad accompany me to the church with Mr Allen rather than my just going with Mr Allen. At the time I didn’t understand why this was.
So my Dad, Mr Allen and I went to the church. I played on the organ. They chatted about music. We parted ways amicably – me to my Dad’s new flat (he and my mum had just separated after many years of arguing but thankfully, as far as I know, no physical aggression) and Mr Allen to his house on the grounds of the school.
That evening my Dad chatted to me about the possibility of having organ lessons. And I remember the exact moment the penny dropped: “You’re welcome to have the lessons,” he said, “but I think you should know about Mr Allen. He’s one of the most… “single” men I have ever met.”
People have since told me that that was a spectacularly unhelpful way for my Dad to explain to me what Mr Allen was. But in that instant I knew.
Suddenly, aged eleven:
I knew why Mr Allen was supervising three change back sessions a week.
I knew why he stood at the entrance to the communal showers when supervising change back, rather than at the far end of the room like all the other teachers.
I knew why he wanted to give me private tuition.
I didn’t even know the word, but in that moment, sat on my Dad’s sofa in a bland Woking suburb at age eleven, I knew for the first time that Mr Allen was a paedophile.
My whole world collapsed in on itself. I suddenly found myself facing a school day tomorrow, and my first class was with Mr Allen.
I refused to go in. I barricaded myself in a room in my dad’s flat and refused to come out.
My parents understood why. Livid, they went straight to the Headmaster, Mr Cassell (remember that name – we’ll be talking about him later), and told him their suspicions. He promised that they’d sort the situation out. My parents left.
Mr Cassell “sorted the situation out” by going straight to Mr Allen about it. So the first thing that happened when I got back to school the next day was that Mr Allen was waiting for me, furious.
He escorted me to his office and basically called me a horrible person for half an hour. “I don’t know what I’ve ever done to you that makes you think I’m some sort of ogre” were his exact words.
I remember sitting there aged eleven, desperately trying not to cry about the outrage and anger I felt, desperately wanting to scream at him “you want to have sex with children! That’s why I think you’re an ogre!”
Instead, I apologised.
I didn’t know what else to do, and I was alone in a remote part of the school with a man I had just realised some thirty-six hours earlier was a monster. So I apologised for having gone to my parents, I apologised for them having gone to Mr Cassell, I apologised for everything I could think of apologising for. And I cried, despite having tried not to.
He sent me off on my way. He told me he was “heartbroken”.
And nothing changed.
Mr Allen stayed in charge of three change back sessions a week. The next term he was also made head of swimming. One might safely hazard a guess at why the role appealed to him.
Speaking of roles, he also gave me a substantial role in the school play (HMS Pinafore – I was Sir Joseph) and made me a “corner boy” in the choir. I remained terrified of him but knew not to let that show.
He pursued a personal vendetta against my best friend at the time (presumably out of jealousy) making excuses to publicly humiliate him whenever he could, frequently making him cry in front of other pupils.
Very soon, all of us aged 11 – 13 knew what Mr Allen was. And our parents knew.
And still nothing changed.
We didn’t know what to do. We had told our parents. That was all we knew how to do. They had told teachers.
And still nothing changed.
Change back sessions continued as always, with Mr Allen still supervising three a week. During this time I saw classmates, other boys and children as young as five groomed and abused on a regular basis. Those children were too young to realise what was being done to them. The older children (myself included) knew by then exactly what we were witnessing, but were powerless to stop it. I have always had a good ear for dialogue and conversations; regrettably this means I can recite entire conversations he had with five-year-olds, even twenty years on. I wish I couldn’t.
This went on for two years without interruption.
Bullying in the school got worse. Kids started getting hospitalised. A kid sprayed deodorant directly into another kid’s eye, almost blinding him. One kid tried to drown another in the swimming pool. We were all “acting out”, as the Americans call it.
As I reached the top class of the school, 6A, we were scheduled to have a “Leavers’ Trip”, a week of activities in Derbyshire supervised by Mr Allen and art teacher Mrs Gould.
Our parents were by this point rallying round to see what could be done about Mr Allen.
I should explain – the question you’re probably asking yourself by this point is “why, if our parents knew about Mr Allen and what he was, didn’t they do something more substantial? Why did they keep sending you there? Why didn’t they call the police?”
All good questions, those.
Unfortunately, we’re in Yew Tree Land for the answer to that one. “It was a different time” is the only answer I’ve ever had. In the late nineties the media would explode with documentaries about paedophiles. This was the mid-nineties. That’s it. That is the explanation.
If it seems lacking to you, trust me: it does to me, too.
Anyway. Aged thirteen I was meant to be going, with maybe fifteen other kids from Forms 6 and 6A, on this Leavers’ Trip. We were due to be staying in a hostel.
Our parents, understandably worried about Mr Allen, approached art teacher Mrs Gould en masse with their concerns. She told them that Mr Allen was a lovely man (not true), that he was married (not true) and that her own son had spent time with him and he’d been fine. “How old is your son?” my mum asked. “Sixteen” Mrs Gould replied.” “Well… he’s probably a bit old for Mr Allen” my mum apparently said.
Mrs Gould lost her temper. “I don’t think you realise how disgusting and serious an allegation that is” she said to my mum.
Our parents insisted that Mrs Gould should at no point leave Mr Allen with unsupervised access to us during the week of the trip. She begrudgingly accepted, although said that there was “no need” for that measure.
On the trip, Mr Allen brought along with him a sixteen year old boy who shared a room with him for the whole trip. Who was he? It was never explained. They slept in the room next to ours, one unlockable door away. Mrs Gould, breaking her promise, slept in a different building entirely for the whole week.
And nothing changed.
Throughout all this, Mr Allen had been particularly interested in me. But I wasn’t his favourite. His favourite (let’s call him Kid 1) was the choir leader, two years younger than me, so nine when Mr Allen had started. We’ll come back to him later.
So how did I finally escape?
Yup – at no point during my two years being taught by Mr Allen did my parents remove me or my little brother from the school. They nearly did, ironically before any of the actual abuse had started, but the school basically promised my mum that if I didn’t leave I’d be made House Captain or at least a Monitor (Prefect, basically) and that that would look good on my secondary school application. They (chiefly the Headmaster Mr Cassell – and again, remember that name for later) made her feel ridiculous for wanting to remove me from the school, and in fact in doing so made her cry.
Incidentally, I was never made House Captain or even a Monitor. Not that it matters.
Having graduated from a paedophilic hell hole, I was immediately sent to hellish boarding school.
There I panicked whenever I got into the showers (although I didn’t understand why at the time) and refused to shower for weeks. I became incredibly unpopular with my dorm mates, as you can imagine, and was bullied because of it. Within two months I was hallucinating, threatening suicide, sitting on outside window sills four floors up with a closed window behind me, phoning my mum every day (my House Master called me “pathetic” for doing so, so that was nice) and begging to be taken home.
After two or three months, I got my wish. In late 1996 I was taken out of the boarding school and sent instead to a local day school, age fourteen.
That day school was great – I made friends almost instantly.
My little brother was still at the primary school I’d gone to, and about halfway through his last academic year Mr Allen was suddenly fired. At the primary school the kids called it “VA Day”, “‘Victory over Allen’ Day”; they ran through the corridors shouting “MR ALLEN’S BEEN FIRED” and the school was, for that day, apparently filled with a camaraderie and “we’ve survived this together” trench spirit that I wish I’d been there to witness.
So why did he get fired? By which I mean, of course, “for which of the many, many valid reasons to fire him was he eventually fired?”
Well, remember Kid 1? His favourite, two years younger than me.
Apparently Mr Allen had been abusing Kid 1 worse than anyone else, myself included. And had insisted that the kid write to him while on holiday with family. The kid did so, every day. The family got suspicious. The kid eventually broke down and told them everything. The family flew home and pressed charges.
Mr Allen was tried and found guilty for crimes against Kid 1. If I remember correctly, these were molestation and attempted rape, with several other charges brought but not proved or provable.
Our parents tried to keep the trial secret from us. I was never asked to give any evidence or asked whether I had been abused. To my knowledge, none of us were asked anything; just Kid 1. The teachers claimed in local media (it never made national news, perhaps surprisingly) that Mr Allen had “pulled the wool over [their] eyes” and that they’d had no idea, that no-one had told them anything about any suspicions about Mr Allen. Not true, of course.
No-one from the school ever contacted us. No-one apologised. No-one did anything.
We were just expected to go on with things as if nothing had happened.
Mr Allen was sentenced to five and a half years, and served three and a half. From there he vanished back up north, into obscurity.
My teenage years were a mess. Suicide attempts, mental illness that wasn’t diagnosed until I was seventeen. Perhaps worse still was the worries it gave me about myself. Aged fifteen I started to realise that I had same-sex attractions. The only gay man I’d encountered up until that point was you-know-who, and he’d also happened to be a paedophile. So I was terrified that that’s what I’d become. Thankfully I didn’t, although I have no idea how I dodged that particular bullet.
These days I’m bisexual and fine with it – and exclusively attracted to adults, I hasten to add.
Brief tangent – two other interesting things about teachers at my primary school:
Firstly – there was also a man called Mr Lea who was variously our woodwork teacher, Maths teacher or Scripture teacher (it was a small school so most teachers taught more than one subject). He was maybe seventy and used to stroke boys’ faces. “Sir, should I sand this wooden bowl I’ve made on the lathe?” “Well, how smooth is it?” he’d ask. Then he’s stroke our faces with the back of his finger. “It’s not quite this smooth, is it?” he’d ask, grinning straight at us.
Yeah. Bit creepy.
Secondly – remember Mr Cassell? The Headmaster I mentioned? The one who had hired Mr Allen and mocked my mum for wanting to remove me from the school, making her cry? Welp, three years after I left he was found guilty of indecently assaulting a nine-year-old girl and an eleven-year-old boy, albeit twenty years before his time at my primary school. He had also been accused of assaulting two more children but these charges were dropped.
Or, to put it another way, in 1993 a paedophile Headmaster hired a paedophile teacher and gave him free reign over a room full of naked children for three years, and the school has never seen any need to apologise for any of that.
Even if, for sake of argument, we suppose that Mr ‘Face-stroker’ Lea was not in fact a paedophile – Mr Allen and Mr Cassell demonstrably (and provably, in the court of law) were; both were jailed for it. So in the senior part of the primary school we had one paedophile for every sixty children. If we include Mr Lea, it’s one paedophile for every forty children.
We were, effectively, lambs to the slaughter. We never stood a chance.
So what has the school done to make reparations?
I have emailed the then-Maths-teacher-now-headmaster who applauded my “bravery” for speaking so openly about it, but he saw no need to apologise for the actions of what is now his school.
As a teenager and young adult I suffered with all kinds of mental and physical illnesses that would go undiagnosed for years. The thing is, no-one was taking the blame. Not Mr Allen. Not the school. Not my mum (my dad passed away in 2001 after a lifelong battle with alcoholism).
So guess who I blamed, for the best part of two decades?
I blamed myself.
I hadn’t stopped the abuse from happening to me. So it was, as I saw it for many many years, my fault. I didn’t realise I felt that way until I was an adult. I didn’t realise it was bullshit until I was in my thirties.
And it is bullshit. Of course it is; I realise that now. It’s victim blaming of the highest order. It was not my responsibility, aged 11 – 13, to get myself out of that situation. It was my parents’ responsibility to ensure my safety. It was Mr Allen’s responsibility not to abuse me. It was the school’s responsibility to ensure that their staff are suitable, ideally not sex offenders, and to follow up on any accusations to the contrary.
None of them fulfilled those responsibilities, none of them acknowledged that they should have done so, and none of them apologised failing to do so. So instead, without even realising it, I took the blame myself.
In 2007, aged 25, I went to the police and gave a statement. They subsequently questioned Mr Allen but he claimed he had “forgotten” what had happened as it was “such a long time ago”. The only option I had left was a my-word-against-his court battle in which I’d have to relive the whole thing and basically be called a liar by hostile cross-examiners. Combating my own legion of mental illnesses at the time, I decided to let the whole thing drop. My statement exists now only as a “bad character statement” against Mr Allen in case he ever gets called to court again, which I’m sure he will. I may be called to give evidence in a future trial in which he is accused of a similar crime.
But yes. Mr Allen claimed he had “forgotten” what had happened.
Funnily enough, I have not.
In 2007 I wrote a play in which a central (female) character has a history of having been abused, and ends up dating a guy who works online to eliminate evidence of child abuse. This play went on to become Unscorched, and though that backstory of having been abused was eventually removed and the focus shifted towards the male character, the in-depth knowledge of the blunt, creeping effect of psychological trauma that I learnt at primary school stayed in the script and is (in my opinion) what made it work.
“[You] go through life thinking there’s a limit to the things that people will do to each other. But there’s not. There’s just not.”
In 2013 – after six years of trying to get someone to listen to what I had to say via that play – it won an award and was professionally staged in London, launching my career as a playwright.
In 2014, my youngest older brother (the one who was the first to go to private school before me), still living in the area in which I grew up, was looking for a private primary school for his own kids.
Guess which one he chose.
The abuse I suffered had been a family secret. I hadn’t told anyone in my family the full extent of it and my older brothers knew nothing.
My Mum, on hearing that my older brother planned to send his own kids to that primary school, immediately told my brother what had happened to me there, without my permission. I sent a polite but emotional (and, in my opinion, well-founded) email to both of them saying that (a) that secret was not Mum’s to tell, it was mine and (b) I think it’s an awful thing to do to endorse (and indeed PAY) a school at which your younger brother was abused – more so if that school has never apologised for that abuse. He (my brother) calmly and rationally explained that he was simply doing what was best for his kids (it’s a great school these days – apparently). I said that it was kinda heartless but that I understood his decision. I also said that I intended to pursue legal action against the school at some point. He told me not to, that I was being “abusive” towards him, risking his children’s future. I told him I wasn’t going to answer that. He called me a dick. He’s ten years older than me.
I have not seen him since, and his children will be attending the school soon.
In 2012 and again in 2015 I emailed the now-headmaster (then-Maths-teacher) of the school, asking for an apology on behalf of the school. He applauded my “bravery” for “speaking so openly” and at first made motions towards wanting to help me. When I asked for an apology he refused, and said that it “would not be appropriate” to talk about all that. I can kinda see why, from a coward’s perspective. An apology is an admission of wrongdoing, and he could legally expose his school to getting sued. So for now, no apology is coming because the now-Headmaster is a coward.
In 2015 I got the apology from my mum, after years and years of asking for that and having not received it. It came in the form of an email, and was about two sentences long. And it meant the world. Until that point she had never apologised for leaving us in the school or failing to go to the police about Mr Allen.
I have never had an apology from the school or Mr Allen, and don’t expect either. The lack of apology from the school is, weirdly, the harder thing to deal with.
So how am I now, at age 34?
I’m getting better.
But a lifetime of dealing with unpleasant memories has taken its toll. I rely too heavily on bad coping strategies and I run away from my problems. I also have a number of physical ailments that, frustratingly, have a high correlation with having experienced abuse. Let’s look at the full list, shall we?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
A 1993 study suggests that 33% of sufferers were previously victims of child abuse. I am in that demographic, meaning that a wonderful world of continual abdominal pain is all mine for the taking. Most mornings I am awoken by “the pain alarm clock”, and lose entire days/weeks to pain management.
A somatisation disorder which is basically a symptoms free-for-all, means that in moments of stress my body physicalises that stress and I can have muscle spasms, muscle paralysis and even Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures. Again, proven correlation with having experienced abuse.
I’ve had panic attacks in the middle of sex. I’ll be there with some lovely person or other and they’ll say one thing that was similar to something Mr Allen once said – and suddenly the rest of the night/day/week is basically written off. I’ll find that I’m with someone really nice who wants to have sex with me and suddenly one comment and I’m triggered and terrified and feeling the need for personal space and safety. So I either have to explain to them why that’s just happened or, sometimes, just come across as a crazy person. More often than not I tell them what’s happened, but they don’t always react well. “I don’t know why you’ve just told me that” (and being vaguely angry about it) is not an uncommon reaction. Usually though, people with whom I’m having sex are already people I know quite well so it’s okay. But I haven’t had sex without being heavily intoxicated in maybe six years. I can’t hack it, psychologically. Too much risk.
I have nightmares and flashbacks. I’ve woken in the middle of the night, been conscious of someone lying pressed against me in the darkness and panicked. For this reason I can’t sleep between someone and the wall – to this day I have to have the side nearest the door.
Of course, some of my mental illness was probably going to happen anyway. But the sort of childhood I had doesn’t help. I have chronic unipolar depression that has kept me out of regular work for the last four years and been a huge factor in every relationship I’ve had. I have literally lost track of how many times I have tried to kill myself – maybe five? Six?
I am really not an angry person on the surface. My friends largely think of me as psychologically fragile – and for that reason occasionally unreliable – but generally a decent, kind, friendly (and apparently quite funny) guy. But for twenty years I have carried around a dead weight of anger – anger at Mr Allen, anger at the school, anger at my Mum for leaving me at the school. The anger towards Mr Allen has – after two decades – just passed (he’s not worth it, he’s a shit). The anger towards my mum subsided in 2015 when she apologised. The anger towards the school has not yet passed. I have no way of expressing anger – I don’t shout at people, I’m terrified of being nasty towards people for fear of how they’d react and fear of hurting their feelings, so for years it was like I had a dead weight of anger, like a bowling ball in my lower abdomen, and I was lugging it around everywhere I went. Processing that anger and making sure it didn’t spill out into my day-to-day life was a huge task and occupied far more of my psychological bandwidth than I ever let on.
I live with all of the above today, and comparatively the abuse I suffered wasn’t anything like as bad as some. In fact, it wasn’t even the worst in the school.
The weirdest thing of all, though, is the good that’s come from the hell I went through.
It has taken me an absolute age to realise it or give myself any credit for it, but my in-depth knowledge of emotional and psychological suffering has been turned, in part by me, to some good use.
1) I go out of my way to be supportive and nice to people.
People seem to open up to me. I am a good listener, apparently, and help people make sense of chaotic, confusing situations. I am able to use my understanding of psychological trauma to help friends through theirs. I want to be nice to people because I know how incredibly nasty people can be to each other. If you’re going through hell, don’t worry; I have the map.
2) I’m a pretty respectful person.
I don’t harass women on the street, I don’t consciously pressure people to have sex with me. Partly because I know how awful it is to be the victim of unwanted sexual attention. It’s grim. Most men don’t know that. I do.
3) My writing displays a knowledge of psychological devastation that many people my age simply don’t have.
If I hadn’t been abused, would I have written the play that launched my writing career? Almost certainly not. And the “understated” tone of the play that so many critics liked – that’s there because I didn’t want to traumatise people, because I know how unpleasant it is to be traumatised. I did not, as some blog-reviewers suggested (nay, demanded) I should, fill it with dialogue intended to traumatise the audience, because I know how horrible it is to be traumatised and I’m not a complete wanker.
I have forgiven my mum (although it took at least twenty years) and I have been able to let go of my anger towards Mr Allen, although that took me just as long.
People, throughout, have been accidentally patronising about it. “Have you ever thought about maybe getting some help/dealing with it?” they almost invariably ask, as if the idea is new to me, as if I haven’t been in counselling since I was seventeen and prescribed half a dozen different anti-depressants over the years. “You can’t let this own your whole life, because then Mr Allen wins”. Though well-meaning, those sort of comments never, ever help. Because they imply that I’m not fighting it, that I haven’t been fighting it for years, that I’ve just been casually letting it ruin my life without thinking “actually, maybe I don’t want that”, that I’ve just resigned myself to this aftermath. Trust me, I have been fighting the psychologically devastating legacy of that school for twenty years. The fact that I’m even alive now is testament to that, and to the many wonderful people whose support and friendship I have managed to gather over the years.
When people talk about paedophiles, Operation Yew Tree and all that, the knee-jerk reaction seems to be “string them all up” or “lock them up and throw away the key”. That sort of talk makes me vaguely angry – because it’s not a solution. We don’t live in a country in which the death penalty exists (and “well, we should” doesn’t get us anywhere either) and we don’t have indefinite sentences for paedophiles (and again, “well, we should” isn’t an argument that achieves anything).
I have more reason than most to hate paedophiles, and yet – strangely – these days I don’t hate them as much as most people do. Make no mistake, their crimes sicken me and they are, as people, abhorrent to me. And yet, for whatever reason, I pity them. I feel much, much more sorry for their victims, of course, but I can’t imagine what it must be like to realise that you have that sort of abhorrent desire. Where would you go? These days the answer tothat is almost always “the internet”, it would seem – where they meet other paedophiles who validate their desires and encourage them to act on them, leading to an awful perpetual cycle of abuse to which there is no beginning or end.
Perhaps what they need, and what society needs, is help. If Mr Allen had been helped in 1992, perhaps I wouldn’t be sat here in 2015 talking about the trauma he caused me, the devastation it wreaked upon my brain or the faultlines it has left through my life. Perhaps there wouldn’t now be dozens of men in Surrey, aged about 30, whose lives have been thrown into disarray by the actions of one man. To surmise the extent of a problem: I approached counsellors in Surrey in 2007, and one of them said to me “the moment you mentioned the name of the school, I knew what was coming.” The school’s name is well-known among local counsellors because they’ve been doing a roaring trade from its legacy for years.
Of course, suggesting that we should do anything other than “string them all up” will (perhaps understandably, in the current climate) get you accused of… you guessed it… being a paedophile. So no-one does. And the problem goes on. And people keep getting abused.
We have not, as a society, come up with a solution to this problem.
The worst thing is: I don’t know that there is one. Perhaps complete segregation IS the answer. Perhaps chemical castration. I don’t know. I wish I did. Certainly there have been times that I’ve felt like enacting violence against Mr Allen, wherever he is. Certainly I feel that same anger that the string-em-uppers feel. But rather than just spouting rhetoric and anger, I hope that one day we can, as a society, find a solution to this problem. Because I don’t want anyone, ever, to have to go through what I went through.
To be sure, what happened to me could have been a lot, lot worse. And yet it’s nearly ruined my life, and nearly killed me more than once.
But for those of you who’ve ever wondered “why did all these people in Operation Yew Tree wait decades before mentioning the abuse they’d suffered” – I hope their decisions now make a bit more sense to you. They’ve been busy.
Mr Allen is now free. He never had any legal recourse for anything he did to anyone except Kid 1, and we are just expected to be okay with that.
I am not yet okay with that. It is my hope that one day I will be, and that one day it won’t matter to me that I got abused.
I think I can get there, and I await that day with bated breath.
Lastly, if you’re a young person reading this and you’ve just gone through a similar thing in your own life, the message I have for you is actually, perhaps surprisingly, one of hope. The road ahead is going to be enormously difficult, and I don’t envy you at all as you embark on this lengthy journey towards that distant land of Being Okay. I am still on that road, although further ahead, but I can see our destination from here and to be honest it looks pretty great.
And along the way you’ll learn what I’ve learned: that when it comes down to it, the vast majority of people are decent, kind, loving people who will care about you and want to make you feel better than you do right now. Most people think that what you’ve gone through is horrible. Most people want to punch your abuser in the face.
People are okay. It took me ages to realise it but they are. For every one horrible person in my past I have twenty wonderful people in my present, and to achieve that I didn’t really have to do anything except be kind and say thank you.
And know too that there are other people out there who get it, this pain you’re going through. They have been burnt by the same fire. You may never meet them, but they are there, in their millions. They stand on the same planet and look at the same stars as you, and they understand.