Quick Exit

Experiences Shared

Karen

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

The daughter of migrant parents who had high aspirations for their family’s future in the UK, Karen was sent to a private girls’ school as a boarder.

Karen was very young, the school was a long way from home and her younger sibling had sadly died in childhood. A male teacher exploited her vulnerable position to sexually abuse her and then stalk her for a time after she left the school.

Karen found it very hard to settle in her new environment. The school was a grand old building from the outside, but inside it was cold, the food was awful and there was a strict punishment regime. Karen describes it as a daunting, miserable place for a young girl.

She became active in sports, arts and drama and by her second year she was managing to get by. Later, she was put in a special class for girls preparing for common entrance exams, with a teacher named Mr Thomas.

When he was absent from work due to illness he requested that the girls visit him in his flat, and Karen and some classmates went to see him in his bedroom. When Mr Thomas returned to teaching he encouraged what Karen describes as a ‘strange relationship’ with the girls in his class.

Looking back, Karen feels Mr Thomas was part of a child abuse ring, as he would tell the girls he would take them to London to meet his friends. He began asking Karen to do chores for him and he would give her treats.

He locked the door of his room and got her to sit on his knee, then he would wiggle about and touch her. He would refer to his penis as her ‘friend’ and describe beforehand the sexual acts he would commit. This occurred once or twice a week and Karen remembers being terribly scared that someone would find out what was happening.

Towards the end of Karen’s final term at the school, Mr Thomas arranged a secret party for her with lots of sweet treats. Someone tried the door handle, and she was stricken with fear. A few minutes later the key turned in the lock and the headteacher opened the door. He shouted at Karen to get out, but he never spoke to her about the incident.

Just before she left the school Mr Thomas asked Karen to meet him in secret. He told her they had to be very careful as he was not supposed to see her anymore, and he kissed her.

She returned to the family home for school holidays. One evening after a day out with friends, Karen walked into her house to find Mr Thomas sitting on the sofa, drinking and socialising with her parents. He said he’d come to give her a present for doing so well at school.

At her new school Karen began receiving letters from Mr Thomas, but she ripped them up and tried to ignore them. He had moved on from her previous school by that time.

The letters became more rambling and accusatory when she did not reply. Eventually they stopped coming, but for some time after, Karen dreaded the post. She says: ‘Wherever I got to, it felt like he was there.’

One evening, while out walking in the school grounds, a man exposed himself to Karen and tried to grab her, ripping her skirt. She managed to get away but didn’t report it to the school until a week later. She was surprised when she told a teacher that they seemed keen to take action.

Around this time, she also told a trusted female teacher what had happened with Mr Thomas at her previous school, but as far as Karen knew, nothing was done about it.

Karen says her teenage years were very difficult because of what happened to her. She was badly behaved, with no respect for authority and no trust for adults. She felt on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

Later she sought counselling which she found very helpful, allowing her to deal with her experiences and move on in her life. She told her mother what had happened with Mr Thomas, but her mother’s reaction was to tell Karen she ‘must have asked for it’.

Some years ago, after media coverage of child abuse investigations into private schools, Karen decided to report her sexual abuse to the police.

She felt a duty to do this – she did not want to face any court action on her own, but was willing to take part if other victims of Mr Thomas had come forward. The police traced him but said no other complaints had ever been made against him and the matter did not proceed any further.

After those difficult times, Karen’s counselling continued to help her deal with her experiences.

Karen has always felt strongly about avoiding private education and its networks. She thinks private schools, particularly boarding schools, are attractive to those who want to abuse children sexually, emotionally and physically and that they are very vulnerable environments for children.

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