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Abuse at UK Boarding Schools: Why Do Victims Come Forward Decades Later?

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Malcolm: I'm Malcolm Underhill, a solicitor who specialises in acting for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. With me this morning is Rosemary Lamaison, a counsellor who works with a range of clients, but is particularly interested in those who have been to boarding school. What we're discussing today is the difficulty around disclosure of the source and abuse following events as a child and I certainly find it; Rosemary that when people come to me; although there are some instances when parents will come to me with a child who's still a child but very often you know better than I will, is that people who don't talk about these things for 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years later; and I'm interested to learn about what are the barriers and why is it that people find it so difficult to talk about this.

Rosemary: It's interesting you say that because I work with people who are well into their late 50s maybe 60s and maybe even in their 70s who some crisis happens in their life, maybe something in a relationship, maybe they've read an article and they come forward realising that's-- that they've just got to talk about it. And it's the first time they've ever spoken about the abuse to anybody or anyone who's listened to I suppose.

Malcolm: Yeah and is there a kind of- is there a specific trigger or is it just a whole range of you know events that can sometimes cause that person to say; I now want to say something, even they're not quite sure how far they want to go?

Rosemary: I think it can be a variety of things. I do think they might have seen a program, read an article, they may have a partner who thinks you know we're not communicating well, what is this. There's more and more about boarding and you know you've got more people in the public eye’s who've not enjoyed their boarding experience and I think that's just filtering out into the community.

But there's something, these are people who are not happy and perhaps haven't understood why; and it comes as a shock to them that; you know for some it comes as a shock that this boarding experience has had such an impact on them.

Malcolm: And what I find funny when I talk to people who have had a particularly unpleasant boarding school experience; whether it's emotional abuse, physical abuse or sexual abuse, is they say to me but Malcolm; others either knew about it because it was common knowledge or other people saw what was going on and or they said something and then before; but still nothing happened.

Rosemary: I think that's the problem, people don't hear; so I think some people come forward when their parents have died; sort of they haven't wanted to upset their parents. But I think people come forward and only when they feel completely unjudged or not judged, they feel safe to talk about it, and that the person won't dismiss it and say well it must be your fault or it didn't really happen. When they actually feel heard, believed and they can trust that they could talk about it, that's key; but until they feel that environment is available to them, there is no point talking about it because it just gets chucked out, families turn their backs on these people.

Malcolm: And as a final question; in your experience, is it better to talk about it or to keep it inside? Is there a definitive answer on that or is it-

Rosemary: I think people have lived their life keeping it inside; it's like that secret, they've not known where to go. I personally think it's helpful, it's very painful; so there's a period of agony and pain and churning up. But it needs- you know most people say they need to get it out, they need someone to hear what their experience has been like; whether they were three, 13, you know 23; they just need someone to hear their story-

Malcolm: Yeah.

Rosemary: -and to believe them-

Malcolm: Yes.

Rosemary: -not being believed is it about the worst thing.

Malcolm: Yeah so that's what I often ask that when people do, they say to me; you're the first person I've begun to talk about this, is the kind of thing I think; there is that kind of thank you for listening and not being judgmental.

Rosemary: They don't need you to do anything about it, they need you to-

Malcolm: Just listen-

Rosemary: -to hear

Malcolm: Yes

Rosemary: -and believe them, it's the belief yeah.

Malcolm: Absolutely. Rosemary, thank you very much.

Rosemary: Pleasure.

End of Video: 4 minutes 24 seconds  

For more information on the topics raised in the video

To contact Malcolm Underhill and obtain information on how to claim compensation for abuse at school or boarding school please visit: /site/services/child-abuse-and-trafficking/abuse-in-schools-boarding-school/

To contact Rosemary Lamaison please visit, email or call 020 8868 8020


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