Victims of Child Abuse in Schools

Child abuse in schools: The victim’s perspective

In the light of Mervyn Rush’s conviction in Norfolk we look at child abuse in schools from the point of view of the victim and ask whether any good is likely to come from these revelations

For those who have never experienced sexual abuse it is often difficult to comprehend how the abuser is able to build such a relationship with the victim that their crimes go unreported.

Child abuse has such far reaching and damaging effects on both the victim and their family. Having dealt with hundreds of child abuse victims over the years, we know there is a very familiar pattern. The victims feel totally betrayed and violated. Many feel they have been robbed of their childhood. They are catapulted into an adult world, losing that special naivety we associate with children along the way.

Victims often experience immense guilt that they have been involved in something sordid. They blame themselves for being targeted. Many feel they cannot say ‘no’, even though they know it is wrong. It is as if the perpetrator has some hidden thread drawing them in. This ‘thread’ often develops from years of grooming; making the victim feel special and trusted. When child abuse finally comes to light, the family usually feels totally helpless and other family members suffer feelings of terrible guilt that this could have ever happened to a loved one.

The whole cycle of guilt and mistrust can be so difficult to unravel. Victims often need years of counseling, but in some cases even this may not be the solution. A number of people have told us that the process of bringing a legal claim is cathartic and empowering. It can give victims a sense of control and a feeling that they have taken a positive step to deal with past events.

Statements have recently been published following the recent conviction of former teacher Mervyn Rush for child abuse. These demonstrate once again the methods used by those in positions of trust and responsibility.

Rush was employed in the 1970’s as a science teacher by Beeston Hall School in Cromer, Norfolk. It is said he was popular with the boys at the school because of his collection of sports cars, which included a Lotus and E-Type Jaguar. He would invite selected boys for drives with him. He would also offer the boys the chance to stay up late and watch television with him. As one victim told police:

“All this at 13 seemed very attractive to me and when I was asked by another boy if I wanted to join the group, I accepted.”

Rush carefully selected his group from the most popular boys within the school. Boys not asked to take part in the “club” felt left out and so would jump at the chance when an opportunity to become involved arose.

“The first time I was invited to his room he produced a magazine – I think it was Mayfair – and asked what I thought. Most of the boys seemed used to this, but I was totally shocked.”

One “perk” of being in Rush’s club was to bring him a cup of tea in the morning. The boys would visit his room in pyjamas and he would invite them to get into bed to keep warm. He would then sexually assault them.

When sentencing Rush, Judge Stephen Holt said, “You were at the centre of a special group and all the boys wanted to join that group.” The police who investigated the case gave special praise to the assistance given by Beeston Hall School in bringing Rush to justice.

It would appear that at the time of the abuse the individual victims did not know they were not alone. It was only many years later when rumours circulated around the county regarding Rush’s behaviour that those involved realised they were not on their own and reported the crimes. More victims came forward after news of Rush’s arrest was reported in the media.

The one positive to come out of high profile cases involving child abuse in schools, such as Nigel Leat at Hillside School in Weston Super Mare (see details elsewhere on this website) and Meryvn Rush in Norfolk, is that they encourage abuse victims to come forward and deal with issues that may have been tormenting them for decades.

We believe changes need to be made to safeguarding to deal with child abuse in schools. Mandatory reporting may well be the way forward, but there are pro’s and cons. It is not a straightforward issue. At least the culture that appears to have predominated in the 1970’s, particularly in boarding schools, is no longer tolerated. Our attitudes to abuse are changing for the better. There is greater social awareness of the problem and that is a very positive step – both for the people who have already suffered abuse and for reducing the chances of new abuse taking place.

If you would like to speak to one of our specialist solicitors about child abuse in schools and making a compensation claim on a confidential, free of charge basis then you can call our dedicated FREE ABUSE HELPLINE on 0808 1391597. You can also email us direct if you prefer at [email protected]

Victims of Child Abuse in Schools