I was a KEGS student from years 7-13. I have read every testimony from a belief that every story deserves to be heard and should be listened to. I have been shocked at the number and severity of the accounts. In the days since reading these accounts, my thoughts have been dominated by recollections of my own time at the school, over a decade ago, and have left me unable to concentrate on my own professional work.
I wish to share some of own experiences, as I believe they offer an account of the conditions that have created an environment in which abuse and assault have occurred and to an extent normalised. Some of the details that follow may be triggering to survivors.
It began innocuously enough: excitable year 7 boys whipping each other with ties and towels when they undressed in the changing rooms. A slap or pinch on the bum. Soon enough this escalated into the smaller, weaker kids being held down by a group or pinned against the wall to receive a ‘wet willy’ (a wet finger pushed deep into your ear), at the same time as your genitals being grabbed while fingers pushed into your bum. ‘Don’t fight back or it will go on for longer’, I would be told. Two subjects a week, at the beginning and end of the lesson: four times a week I would hope it wouldn’t be my turn. To attempt to intervene meant that ‘you wanted some too’ and would be next. Silly behaviour. Messing around. ‘Boys will be boys’.
And so it continued, becoming part of the daily routine to be endured. Under the radar. Largely unnoticed. Not worthy of much more than a ‘oi! stop that’ if a teacher happened to walk in. It never stopped. On school trips in the sixth form boys would all share a room. I always dreaded this. Again being held down by a group, no longer in a changing room but on a bed while people took turns to dry hump you. I remember the disgusting sensation, the feeling of violation. Aged 17/18, is it still just playground messing around? Again, a teacher walked in on one of these occasions and told the boys to get off me. The boys were reprimanded appropriately enough and I was asked if I was ok. I generally remember feeling embarrassed by it all.
Much of the bullying behaviour I experienced was like this. It would never leave a physical mark. But for 7 years it was low-level, constant, and specifically designed to make you feel worthless and voiceless; to ‘keep you in your place’. Characteristics of abuse I recognise in accounts of abusive relatonships. In the lower school a ratings system for people’s social status based on marine life: nerds were either ‘bottom feeders’ or ‘plankton’. If a student was deemed to be ‘getting above themselves’ then a beating would be arranged. In hindsight, I can see a resonance between these examples of a ‘pack mentality’, physcial domination, sexually aggressive behaviour, and trivialisation of r*pe learnt at a young age that created the conditions for the horrific accounts provided by others. Dry humping a straight male is one step removed from dry humping a female student ‘for a joke’.
Intelligent boys knew how to avoid getting caught, how to press your buttons and emotionally manipulate you. Any aspect of your family background or character could be used against you for constant, petty attacks. In year 13 a teacher who had taught me for two years, while covering a lesson of another class, had described me as ‘having good grades, but no personality’. Perhaps this was a result of any form of self-expression having being used to abuse you by your peers. Having looked up to them and always having enjoyed their lessons I felt humiliated and betrayed, and to this day I think of that comment in new social situations or in work meetings. I cannot fault the school for the excellent academic education I received; the top grades that allowed me to go to university and pursue a career I love. I wish only that some targeted consideration could be given to addressing some of the worst aspects of the culture from a young age, because what a wholly fantastic school that would be.