This is our truth, tell us yours
Alex Renton has written with breathtaking honesty and care here about his experience of abuse in an English boarding school.
It is important to understand that there was something particularly cruel about the way in which some schools institutionalized brutality against the children they promised to care for. For many of the young people involved, as Alex Renton describes, there is a legacy of distrust and misery.
However, it’s not the whole story, and blaming boarding schools for the abuse, as many appeared to do below the line from Renton’s article, is to miss the point. Some schools were negligent, and some had management who were complicit in the abuse of young people. Not all of them, however; some of the schools will have been entirely innocent of any abuse.
Renton is clear in his view; boarding schools are bad – he thinks with compassion and care about “… the 2,000 or so kids nine or younger – too young, according to any child psychologist – whose parents are now sending them to boarding school. For convenience, or notions of status, or just because they did not love them enough, to taking a mad gamble with their children’s emotional health, with their lives.”
It may be part of the picture, but it is not the whole of the picture. The venues for abuse will include anywhere that abusers can get access to children. It might be in the home of a relative, or in the vestry of a church as they help put the vestments away. It might be a fumbling gesture during a lift home from a rugby match or a forced rape by an older boy in the woods behind the railway track. The problem is always the abusers, not the venues they choose.
That shouldn’t detract from Renton’s brave and compassionate campaigning for victims, nor from Ally Fogg’s campaigning about rape in our prisons. Nevertheless,we ned to make sure the focus, while improving our institutions and their care for all of us, doesn’t detract from the one central fact. Abuse is a choice of the abuser and they seek out venues to act out their desires.