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Experiences Shared

Bernardo

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Bernardo had a troubled home life and was sent to a ‘horrifying’ children’s home where another boy sexually abused him.

Later in life, a manager on a work experience scheme gave him the encouragement that he believes saved him ‘from the scrapheap’.

Bernardo explains that his father was in the armed forces and the family lived abroad for much of his early life. He says that when his father’s army career ended, he found civilian life hard. The family settled back in the UK but Bernardo’s parents’ marriage was very strained. 

At secondary school, Bernardo struggled. He says he tried to be popular by being ‘the class clown’, but this meant the teachers didn’t like him. 

He adds that the headteacher ‘had no time’ for any pupils who might let the school’s performance down and a lot of children were expelled. When he was about 12, Bernardo was expelled on the grounds of bad behaviour. 

He was placed in a residential children's school which was run by social services. Bernardo describes how pupils were kept ‘under lock and key’ and says it was a terrible time for him. He felt completely isolated from his family and neighbourhood and he tried to do everything he was told in the hope he would be allowed to go home. 

One day, a new pupil called Kaden arrived. He was the same age as Bernardo but he seemed very sure of himself, and quickly became violent, threatening and abusive towards Bernardo and other pupils. 

Staff slept in another part of the building away from the children, who were locked in their dormitories. Kaden began sexually abusing Bernardo. He says it began with touching and escalated to ‘nasty stuff’, including anal rape. Kaden abused other children too, and Bernardo remembers lying in bed wondering if he would be next.

The abuse went on for a period of months, then Kaden left the home.

Bernardo recalls that after being abused, he felt like a different person. He was angry and ‘hated everyone’, but he did not become violent. 

Eventually, Bernardo was allowed back home and went back to school, but he left with no qualifications. However, whilst on a work placement, he encountered a manager who he believes changed the course of his life. The manager praised his work, and offered him a job, saying that he knew Bernardo’s history. He later encouraged Bernardo to progress in his career. 

Bernardo had not told anyone he had been abused. He says he was afraid if he spoke to his father about it he would not believe him, or say that he was gay. 

But some time later, after watching a documentary about abuse in care homes, Bernardo took steps to seek help and then spoke to the police. 

The police interviewed Kaden, but he claimed the abuse of Bernardo was consensual sex. The case was not pursued, but Kaden was subsequently sent to prison for other sexual offences. 

Bernardo still wants justice because the abuse robbed him of his pride and his education. He suffers from flashbacks and at times he has felt suicidal. 

He would like schools to start looking beyond the learning and behavioural difficulties of children and not judge them as ‘bad’. He says staff in the home treated the children as criminals, and did not try to find out why they were struggling.

Bernardo has had counselling but he had to wait a long time for a referral and he feels more funding should be available for therapy for people who need it. He is currently in a good relationship with a very supportive partner.

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