The One Where I Share With You My Story of Sexual Abuse at School.
Please Note: This blog contains narrative describing my story of sexual abuse, which may not be right or appropriate for all readers. Please use your discernment in deciding whether it is the right time for you to read my story, as it may contain upsetting and difficult to read content.
I have spoken, over the years, to less than a handful of people, mainly counsellors about this part of my abuse story and I’ve certainly never put pen to paper or maybe I should say fingers to keyboard to share my story on the scale that I am doing today. But I feel that now is the right time for me to share my story. In doing so I’m taking a brave leap forward on my own healing journey, into the unknown, drawing upon all the strength and courage that I have in order to voice my story and the pain that I have held for so long deep inside. It is my hope that in my sharing that I am not only able to heal and help myself on my journey but also to help and inspire others to.
We are not alone and no longer have to suffer alone, in silence. It is safe and right for us to share our stories and have our voices, our pain and our traumas heard, witnessed, accepted and acknowledged so that we are able to set ourselves free from the sufferings and grievances of our past.
So here I share with you my Story.
The Eery Corridor, Blue Mini Bus and Photos
My abuse at school began somewhere around the age of 9 or 10 years old.
I went to a private all girls school in West Sussex and there I was sexually abused by the school caretaker.
I fell prey to his talons of abuse in a well orchestrated and conspired way. Like many abusers there was a period of grooming that lead to my entrapment.
My parents worked long hours in the medical profession and dropped me off at school early in the morning and picked me up late after everyone else had gone home in the late afternoon/early evening. There were no before or after school clubs at that time, so I was left to simply roam the corridors alone until school began or until my parents came to pick me up. In the mornings everybody else had yet to arrive and in the late afternoons they had long since gone home. I waited alone in darkened corridors, which even without my abuse had an already eery atmosphere to them.
My abuser, Mr Rothman, (let’s call him), was a short, round, stumpy man. He had a ‘friendly’ smile hidden behind his moustache and underlying sinister character. During the whole time of my abuse he made me feel like I was the most special girl in the world. As I didn’t feel like that at home, and was already a victim to abuse at home, I guess I was easy prey or an easy target for him.
He bought me little bags of goodies. I can see them now, small white crumpled paper bags filled with sweets and fake gold chains. He wasn’t at all discreet about how and when he gave them to me. It would be in the playground in front of all the other girls and there was something in that, that made me feel even more special. We would see him coming and rushed over to form a circle of excitement and expectation around him. When he gave the bag of goodies to me, I felt like I was his favourite chosen one. His special girl. I didn’t always feel like that though, as he would sometimes bring more than one bag, giving them to others and even missing me out sometimes, kind of like playing us off against each other in some warped way to keep me keen, obedient and loyal to his control and demands.
Over time the abuse began. He would find me in the chilly early morning corridor or in exactly the same place some hours later in the late afternoon and there he would fondle, grope, touch, caress and kiss me whilst whispering words of how special I was into my ears.
I feel sick and nauseous, as I type, just remembering all of this today and there is a real familiarity in those feelings that I feel in the pit of my stomach. A familiarity of feelings that bare, not only a resemblance to, but also stir up a memory of my past and how I felt in that lonely corridor all those years ago.
As I write I can see him in my mind, as clear as if it were today. He is walking up the school drive, from the small lodge at the entrance to the school where he used to live. I can see his short , stout physique, smartly dressed in khaki. I would be standing in the entrance hall, in front of a storage heater, keeping myself warm. The school drive was ahead of me [ from where I used to stand and look out], behind was the locker room, and to the side a corridor that led to the rest of the school.
As he got closer and closer the same feelings of sickness and nausea, that I feel now recounting my abuse, would be those that I would feel back then, out of fear, anxiety and the anticipatory and unavoidable certainty of what was about to happen.
He would smile as he got closer and saw me waiting. He had a certain smile that was alluring and ‘attractive’ to me, not in a sexual sense per se, but in more of a sense of a ‘kind, loving’ smile of someone who ‘really cared about me and loved me.’ That’s how it felt to me.
I can hear as I write and remember how he used to whistle as he came in. I also remember the attractive scent of his cologne.
Everything about him and the way he had groomed me, made his proposition appealing, enticing, attractive and even exciting.
I find it hard and shameful to admit that in amongst the feelings of nausea, fear and anxiety, that I would also feel a sense of excitement, sexual excitement and also a general sense of excitement to see him. He made me feel ‘good’ about myself, special, loved, cherished and cared for, like nobody else did at that time.
Whilst, as I write, part of me, (namely my wounded child self), finds my feelings of excitement shameful to admit and fears your judgement. The other part of me, (my adult self who has had time to process and work through my feelings), knows that how I was feeling was normal. I was having a normal and healthy bodily, hormonal and emotional reaction and response, for someone of that age, to the interest and advances from someone of the opposite sex.
I was at the time of my abuse at school, in my early pubescent and hormonal years experiencing new feelings, emotions, sensations and desires that I had never felt, experienced or understood before. Finding myself in unknown territories, I was driven by unfamiliar, and at times overwhelming, hormones and chemicals in my brain and body, with no guidance or support during this healthy and normal time of development and transition in my life. I found myself conflicted and confused by how I was feeling.
Since then, with years of counselling and healing, I have come to learn that how I was feeling and responding was normal, healthy and OK. I have started to gain a greater level of self- understanding, compassion and awareness that has allowed me to work towards self forgiveness and the shedding of the layers of shame and self blame, that I have carried around for so long, as a result of my abuse.
How I was feeling, in terms of my sexual excitement and attraction became an object or thing to be ashamed of through the acts of abuse that I was experiencing. How my body was responding was healthy, normal and appropriate. What wasn’t appropriate was the behaviour of the abuser.
I don’t recall how long the abuse went on for, it was certainly months and quite possibly a year or two. I really can’t remember. But for however long it was, it was most days, before school, after school and sometimes both.
It didn’t just happen in the corridor. Mr Rothman would lure me into his workshop or even into the school minibus where he would carry out his sickening and shocking acts of abuse. He would even take me and two of my school friends down to the lodge at the end of the school drive where he would take photos of us.
It is hard to not only write about this but also to believe that this happened. How could it have been allowed to happen? How and why did no one see what he was doing and then stop him? It wasn’t like he was discreet in his grooming, drawing us all in with his tainted bags of sweets right there in the playground in front of the on duty teachers. How did it happen and why did no one think to question what he was doing and whether it was right? Did the on duty teachers who may have seen or known of his actions just look the other way as if not to notice, and if so why? I have asked myself these questions many times and have still not been able to find the answers. I’ve jumped to the defense of the school with thoughts like “ well that was the done thing in those days.” or “ Nobody knew of abuse in those days”. But those thoughts, however helpful or not in satisfying the unanswered questions in my mind, don’t make what happened OK and don’t take away the fact that the school failed in their duty of care towards me, and indeed any other girls affected by Mr Rothmans actions.
Did anybody know and if so why didn’t they do something?
I remember one morning in the corridor when Mr Rothman was kissing and touching me, an older girl from the school walked through the locker room and saw what he was doing. From that moment onwards I was terrified of what was going to happen. That girl was the daughter of the headmistress of the school.
Was she going to tell her mother and if so what would happen?! I was terrified. If the headmistress were to find out, she would then go on to tell my parents and then what…..?!!……I would bring shame onto the family, my parents would scold me, hit me and punish me so hard. Way worse than that though, they would probably throw me out of the house, rejected, abandoned, unwanted and unloved. All these thoughts and more, I must have felt, feared and carried around with me each day for the remaining years, until I left that school. I was burdened and heavy laden like no child ever should be, living each day in fear, terror and desperate need for what was happening to me to remain secret and be kept safely hidden deep inside.
I never spoke of my abuse to anyone during those months and years. It wasn’t until I “came out” and told my parents some years later, when I felt safe enough to speak about all of my abuse that I was able to unload some of the burden and weight that I had been carrying all of those years.
I do sometimes wonder, still to this day whether anybody did actually know? Whether the older girl actually told her mother? And if they did know, why they chose not to do anything about it?
Opening up more about what had happened.
Over time, through counselling I began to get the help I needed to begin to make sense of, and work through, the abuse and as a result I was able to talk more openly about what had happened to me at school.
After telling my parents and then my brother, I visited the headmistress of the school, some years later. She had long since moved on from the school where the abuse took place to head another private girls school in Sussex. I went down to see her with my brother and we told her what had happened. I’m not sure at the time quite what I was expecting from our visit. It was more my brother’s idea to visit than mine. He was angry, as he’d just learnt of my abuse and wanted someone to ‘do something about it’.
Then, some years later on after our visit to the headmistress, I also went on to tell the police. At that point I was looking for justice to be done. Quite simply, I wanted ‘him’ [Mr Rothman] to be found and locked away to pay for what he had done to me. The police were really good, I am grateful to say, they listened non judgmentally, openly and caringly to the story I had to tell. They took what I had to say seriously and did all they could to try and track Mr Rothman down. Despite all their efforts though, they were unable to find him and at that point there wasn’t any more that they could do.
It took a lot of courage and time for me to be able to tell the police and if I had a chance to go back in time to do it all over again, with the awareness that I have now and the awareness of child abuse like it is now in society, the justice system and the media, then I would go back and tell the police sooner.
But back then, despite it being only the 1980’s, so not that long ago, things were very different. Levels of awareness, understanding, openness and acceptability of abuse within society were very different. I didn’t feel safe, strong or able enough to tell the police all those years ago, when I needed to the most. I had been warned by counsellors and support workers about how difficult a process it was to go through in reporting abuse and how the police at that time, unlike how it is today, didn’t really have the correct procedures in place to respond to abuse victims in an appropriate, sensitive, supportive and effective manner. The process was a lot harder then, than what it is today. I also felt afraid to, that I wouldn’t be believed. I feared that in the telling of the abuse that had happened to me, that they would accuse me of doing wrong and that I would be the one who would ‘get into trouble’.
Whilst I never got justice in the way that I would have liked for my abuse, I’m grateful today for all that has changed in the media, society and also in the justice system, with regards to the levels of awareness, understanding and care towards survivors of abuse. Even though, there is still a long way to go, the changes that have already been made, are now making it easier for survivors to get the right help, support, care and justice that they so rightfully deserve and need.
I do feel disappointed and angry at times that no charges were made and that no justice was done in my case and that in the end no one, neither my abuser nor the school took ownership or responsibility for what happened to me. There are days, for sure that I feel angry that this was allowed to happen, that it still to this day remains unaccounted, and unapologised for. There are days when I feel let down and I feel alone. Alone in having to come to terms with the repercussions of the actions and abuse of one man who will never ever know just how devastating and life destroying his sordid actions of abuse have been on my life.
Healing the pain
Today, with the combined help of all of the accumulated wisdom, knowledge and understanding that I have gained over the years, and all the other help and support received to, over the years from counsellors, teachers, tools and resources, I find myself more able to reconcile the multitude of painful, conflicting and often confusing thoughts, beliefs, feelings and emotions in my body and mind, that have been locked away over the many years since my abuse.
Whilst the healing process has seemed at times like an arduous one that I have had to face on an almost daily basis, I have learnt over the years ways to cope, to manage and to self heal. One part of me has learnt to feel and process the pain, anger, grief and injustice from my past, whilst another part of me has learnt to tune in and hear the guiding voice of my inner being, the spiritual part of myself that shows me a higher reason or purpose for my abuse. This continual dance between self healing and awareness on my path of recovery has helped me to navigate the constant ebb and flow of energy, feelings and emotions. This has not only helped me to make sense of it all, enabling me to heal my pain at a very real and deep level of my being. But also, at the same time to, it has enabled me to draw upon the wisdom, guidance and support of the higher perspective and state of awareness and being that I have within, to show me the way back to Me and the truth of who I am. These two very different and sometimes contradicting sides or parts of myself coexist within me, both with equally important roles to play on my healing journey. Without my learnt ability to feel and process my pain and trauma and my learnt ability to connect to the deeper, innate inner guidance system within, I quite possibly would not have been able to journey so far to finding wholeness, Me, my True Self and love to the degree that I have to date.
I remember, being sat in my sitting room talking to the two lady police officers who were dealing with my case. It was their last visit and the time when they informed me that they had done all that they could do and that there was no more that they would be able to do. I remember saying to them that, the fact that Mr Rothman had not been found and charged probably wouldn’t make a great deal of difference to me in the long run, and to how I truly and deeply felt within about myself, my experiences and my life. I went on to say that the work that I would need to do within to heal my pain, would regardless of whether he had been found and charged or not, still have needed to be done and that ultimately that work would be the only thing that would ever be able to set me free and allow me to move on. I knew even back then, and still believe today, that, that inner work which I have been doing for the years ever since, would be the only true way that I would be able to not only heal the pain of my past but also set myself free to be able to move on and live my life with a sense of acceptance for what has been before.
I knew back then as I sat with the police officers, feeling I’m sure disappointed, upset and let down, on hearing their news, that my own healing journey would be my true path to salvation and the only path that would ultimately set me free.
Whilst telling the police, the headmistress and my parents were all part of my overall healing journey, the deeper and more catalytic inner work, of self understanding, awareness, compassion, forgiveness and love, has been the part that has played the greatest role in my healing. With that journey, which still continues to this day and may still do for some time now, I have allowed, and continue to allow, every held back tear, every unmet need, every wave of grief, rage and anger and every ounce of fear, to be witnessed, held, nurtured and heard lovingly, compassionately and non judgmentally.
It has been a long journey, challenging and arduous at times. But as time has gone by it has become easier. Through my inner healing work, spiritual and self development, counselling sessions and all the tools and resources which I use and share with on this blog, I have learnt ways to support and care for myself, to heal and process my pain and trauma and to give a voice to my wounded child within so that both she and I can break free of the shackles of our past, in a safe way to set ourselves free.
I see evidence of my progress and of how far I have come everyday, like today in the way I have been able to share my story and feelings with you. Everyday I am letting go of my pain, shame, grief, anger and blame that has bound me tight and held me stuck fast in the past. Seeing how far I have come makes me feel proud of who I am and all that I have achieved.
Some days are easier than others but I know every day that I am moving further and further forward in the right direction, embracing and reclaiming back more and more of myself, my truth, my power and my life from those, not just Mr Rothman but from all the others to, who through their selfish acts of abuse took my right to a ‘normal’, safe and happy childhood away.
Over time I have come to see that I am more than my past experiences, more than my abuse and the confines of my pain that, in the past, have held me back for so long. As I’ve journeyed each day along a sometimes treacherous and uncertain path, I have been able to find and uncover more and more of myself. As I have healed my pain within, I have been able to make way for myself to feel, experience, ground and embody, more of who I really am. And through my inner work and discovery of spirituality, I am now able to shine my love and light out into this world to freely express who I am here to be and to help and inspire others to.
Thank you for sharing my journey
It has been quite a journey for me sharing my story in this blog. It has taken a while but now I’m finally at the end, I have to say that I feel relieved that I’ve finally finished it. I feel really glad to, that I’ve shared it with you. As always, I hope that in my sharing that I can help and inspire you in some way, as well as helping me to.
There are so many subjects in this blog that I would like to have talked more about but it would have just made what is already a very long blog post, simply too long. So, I will talk more in future blogs about subjects that I’ve touched on in this blog such as how I have learnt to cope with, manage and process my trauma, grief, anger and emotions. And also, I will talk more about how I have learnt to live with the feelings of injustice that I feel and how I have come to find meaning and purpose in spirituality. There is so much that I want to share with you and I look forward to doing that very soon.
But until then I send you my love as always and I look forward to rambling with you next time.
Amelia Ella Hope
If you have been affected by the contents of this blog in anyway and need to talk or find help and support then please click on the link here where you will find, the contact details of organisations that are trained to help.