Testimony 42

My time at KEGS for the most part negative, polluted with experiences of harassment, bullying, racism, abuse and sexual assault. From the beginning of sixth from when I joined it was very apparent to me the overwhelming misogyny and sexism exhibited by the some of the boys. There were some completely lovely boys, many of which I am still friends with today but there was very distinct group of particularly nasty ones. Overall there was also a prevalent lad culture which even some of the nice boys would become victim to (bullying, teasing, general toxic masculinity). The harassment and abuse of girls was almost a daily occurrence which came from boys across sixth form and sometimes from lower years. Boys would also talk extensively and grotesquely about wanting to “bang/shag” female members of staff. There would be casual slut-shaming, sharing of nudes, competitive attitudes towards sexual activities with girls and also just generally disgusting conversations about sex which was inherently violent or abusive in nature. Some of the conversations that occurred would talk about girls “asking for it” or talking about what they would do because “they can’t say no”, and about boys willing to “catch an R-charge” for attractive girls (rape charge). Never once at KEGS sixth form did I receive any kind of sex ed which is worrying because (while I knew about consent) I was now having to navigate an overwhelmingly male dominated space, polluted with misogyny and entitlement, in which it seemed very few of the boys knew what consent was.

In year 12 I started dating a boy from KEGS and the relationship was physically, emotionally and sexually abusive. I had told the school about this abuse, explicitly on one occasion but more often alluding to it out of fear of not being believed or him finding out. He was extremely manipulative and violent. I was always treading on eggshells. He isolated me from anyone else that was close to me and would often threaten to kill himself if I left him. Throughout the relationship he would coerce me to do things sexually that I wasn’t comfortable with and made me feel guilty for not doing it, I was also scared of his heavy hand and if I didn’t agree to things, he was generally sexually violent regardless – often resulting in bruising. If I ever objected, it seemed to “turn him on” more. He would also often try to touch me sexually in public – many times painfully slapping my bum in the Darwin centre and laughing in front of all his friends as well as grabbing my boobs or trying to “discreetly” put his fingers up my skirt and touch me – all without my consent and my physical and verbal protest. His manipulation tactics were powerful. He would isolate me from any friendships I had and convince me these people were out to get me or hated me because I was with him and he was my only friend while simultaneously belittling and bullying me throughout our relationship. Sex became a central part of us spending time together because it was a path of least resistance which became a cycle of validation for me, even if I was uncomfortable with the activities or if it caused pain. I still struggle having sex today, two years on as I suffer from panic attacks and dissociation during completely consensual intercourse despite being in a very happy and healthy relationship. I often dissociate in day-to-day life which is a coping mechanism.

The first major incident of abuse came at a party. My boyfriend had taken me to a secluded area outside away from friends. We were both drunk, but his drunkenness was very unstable, aggressive and erratic. We started kissing and he put his hand round my throat to choke me – something he often did as sexual gratification which I didn’t enjoy and had explicitly expressed to him multiple times. I gently tried to move his hand away but that just encouraged him, and he put both hands round my neck, at this point no longer kissing me and started to strangle me. I can’t remember for how long this happened, but he was looking at me so angrily, for what reason I could not fathom. He strangled me until I almost blacked out and I remember thinking at the time “he’s going to kill me” and being embarrassed that no one would find me at the bottom of this garden he walked back to the party and after I pulled myself together, he was sitting and laughing with friends nonchalantly. His change in behaviour like this would make me think I was the crazy. I often wondered that he might kill me one day in anger and I truly believed if I left him, he would kill himself.

Another distinct experience was at a party. My boyfriend had been arguing and I was crying and panicking because his friends thought it would be funny to lock me in the same room as him while he was yelling at me. I was shouting and crying and banging to get out. He raised his voice at me to “shut up” and hit me. After eventually being let out I found my friend and asked to be taken home. I was quite drunk and emotional at this point. I got into the car with my friend and my boyfriend climbed in and sat next to me. I was too scared to tell him to go away and worried about making a scene. In the car he was singing and joking around with other people like nothing had happened. I let him come back to mine as planned. I had decided to break up with him the next morning over text after he left so I told him to sleep downstairs and leave before my parents got up and that we would talk on the phone the next day. I went to sleep embarrassed and upset. At some point in the night I woke up to him cuddling and kissing me saying he was sorry, and he loved me. I was half asleep still and still quite drunk. He started having sex with me despite my pushing his hands away. I was frozen. Once I had started realised what was happening and became fully conscious, I eventually had a panic attack. The crazy thing was once when I had the panic attack, he comforted me, wiped my tears and said he was sorry for arguing and he loved me. It took me a year to realise he raped me. I also have so much guilt attached because I was confused for the longest time that it wasn’t wrong because he looked after me after the fact. I had bruises from being hit and the next Monday I told a teacher what had happened. The teacher was sympathetic, but no action was taken, it was an empathetic dismissal. I was completely dissuaded from ever speaking up about it.

After eventually breaking up with him he became a torment in my life in and outside of school. Once single, I kissed a boy at a party and upon finding out my ex threatened and assaulted this boy at school, no action was taken by the staff despite their knowledge. He was extremely possessive in and after our relationship. There was several incidents of stalking and harassment in the months after we broke up. On one occasion he followed me to my car after school and got in with me, despite my protest, and refused to leave. I was genuinely scared of this boy and after our break-up I had multiple conversations with the school about my fears and the threat he was to not only my safety but to that of others around me including my family. There was one incident in school involving him and one of the members of staff walked into the Darwin centre during my study period and said in-front of everyone “[my ex-boyfriend’s name]’s girlfriend, please come to my office”. I was humiliated that I was being associated with his misconduct despite doing my absolute best to escape all ties to him, I was called to the office because staff couldn’t “calm him down” and they “needed my help”. I think the school failed their duty of care as much to him as they did me. They also failed to protect me when I repeatedly asked for his presence to be restricted in social areas away from me following incidents of reported harassment. The school suggested I can eat my lunch in a separate room. This was a slap in the face for me because it took all my strength to leave my abusive relationship and I was completely vulnerable and still subject to his harassment. I felt isolated and needed to surround myself with friends, but I was told I had to compromise because they couldn’t control him.

For the rest of my time at KEGS, despite cutting ties with him, I suffered from severe anxiety and depression from the trauma I has experienced. I often had panic attacks at school and teachers would check if I was okay and encourage me to “not be late to my lesson”. For a long time, every day after school I would cry and dread going in. I would go as far to argue that the academic attainment was a priority over duty of care over mental health and safety of students. I am honestly haunted not only this relationship and the trauma but also by KEGS in general. I currently have abuse therapy and still suffer anxiety because of my experiences at KEGS. I am in a much better place but have a long way to go. Never in my life have I experienced a place as hostile, violent and unsafe for many girls and even boys. I can only hope that this culture will be taken seriously and adequately addressed so no one else has to go through what I did.

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