*This is my first article for the Huffington Post – link at the bottom of this piece.
Every day seemingly brings fresh allegations. The cases of reported abuse in the Jimmy Savile case is said to have reached 450 victims to date and continues to rise. If ever we needed evidence that abuse can happen at every, and any level, we only have to open up our daily newspaper.
I have never needed reminding. Fifteen years ago, when I was 15 years old, I was groomed, and eventually sexually abused by one of my secondary school teachers, over a three month period.
Now, for the first time, and inspired by the bravery of Savile’s victims, I feel ready to tell my story, which will be shared here over the next few weeks. If my story makes a difference to one person, I feel I have achieved what I set out to do in coming forward at last.
I’ve only ever told a few people about my experience that summer before today. I suppose it has only ever come up in conversation with those who I feel could bear it. I’ve only ever shared it
with people who I felt could stand up in the face of it and say “I love you Claire, regardless.” That means a lot – and it has been part of a particular evolution in my life. It wasn’t always
A wilderness. That is the way I would describe that particular period of my life – 1997-2001.
I always refer to it as my wilderness years. It’s not a glamorous term – I was without guidance, without hope, with only the reference point of my own ambition to prevent me from disappearing completely.
My father had left our family in March 1995. His parting gift was the fact that he cleared out
from our lives with the family savings without looking back. We found out two months after he left that he was living with the wife of our neighbour – she had left at the same time as my father. We found out that they were cohabiting in a bungalow in Selby. Mother and my aunt drove over there one evening.
Mother was told if she took another step she would be arrested. My father had called the police, and they had pulled into the cul-de-sac just as my mother was in the process of threatening to throw a bottle garden through the porch window.
“They had a BMW in the drive, Claire. Just sitting there – proud as punch.”
My mother had suffered a nervous breakdown during the latter part of 1994 around the time that her marriage had started to fall apart. She suspected something wasn’t right. And like many women before, and many women since, she internalised it, until it brought about destruction of a kind.
My father was absent during the time of my mother’s breakdown – he would leave for his shift work at 5.30am. Some mornings, grandma would cycle over from North Hull to take over. Otherwise, I would take the day off school and sit with my mum. It wasn’t a hardship, really. We sat, and watched films, mum lying on the sofa in purple roll down socks. It was really rather companionable.
Except when mother cried, clutching a home-made snow globe, demanding that we release the Kinder Egg Teeny Terrapins that were swirling inside it. Until i released the jam jar lid, letting the little plastic terrapins ‘breathe’ – she would sob relentlessly.
I spoke to my younger brother about this time recently. He is almost seven years younger than me. I was 12 at the time this was happening – 13 when my father left. My brother and I – 15 years on – drank gin on the rocks and sat in companionable silence.
He was so young at the time he didn’t remember half of what I remembered. Except one thing – he remembered watching from the back of our car as my father drove my mother to the front door of a well known Hull mental illness facility and threatened to leave her there. Fifteen years on, it was a vivid memory – I too, remembered from a distance, a door opening, disco lighting and bodies in shadow writhing. It didn’t make any sense then, and it certainly doesn’t now.
By 1997, my mother had given all she could give to keep our family home afloat, and it came to nothing. We moved nearer to my grandparents in North Hull where, at least, my mother had a semblance of a support network. With this move, I shifted in status – no longer were we comfortably off in the house I’d loved and grown up in.
Suddenly, I was living on the wrong side of the tracks. I shifted social circles at school, even though it was unspoken. I kept the same friends as I had before for a while but really, i was no longer one of them. My newly acquired cigarette habit was a testament to that, much to my mother’s dismay.
But it all seemed to fit into place. Distant from everything I had known, I had begun to seek solace in whatever male attention I could get. It seemed the most certain thing – if I could
turn a head, everything was alright with the world.
I always knew that each face meant nothing, shapeless, nameless entities. they desperately tried to make something of it. And for the large part, they were nice boys. But my feelings were suspended, somewhere beyond reach – it seemed the safest thing for me. I talked the talk, but it amused me in the darkest way that my friends, and those around me, couldn’t see the rather timid virgin I was behind the closed doors of that facade.
In Spring 1997, I met a small time cannabis dealer named Adrian. I was 15, and he was 19, and I became the talk of my year at school when he came to meet me at the school gate in his leather trench coat and long greasy hair.
We spent time together, and although I never partook, I became involved in that world for a few months – people dropping by, scoring, staying longer, smoking, talking. I was a feature – even when Adrian and I ended our relationship, we hung out together – we had got used to each other’s company, and enjoyed the proximity to each other, even though we knew our relationship was going nowhere.
I mention Adrian, as he is relevant to what happened next. He had been to the same secondary school as I was at, and knew most of the same teachers. He knew Mr D and rated him as a great guy, jovial, expressive – a certain legend within a closed atmosphere of teaching non-entities.
Mr D had been a feature in my school life since I started secondary school. Everyone in my year was comfortable with him laughing with him, joking with him. However, at the beginning of 1997, he started to take on a different air. There was something lost about him. I later found out that his wife had walked out on him after years of marriage.
I didn’t notice the change in him straight away, but I had no choice to notice it by the middle of the year. I bring it upon my reader in the same way it happened to me – you know something is wrong, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.
Until the end of May.
One evening, two of my friends and I had been invited to a staff cricket match. A silly thing really – we went along just to make fun of the teachers out of hours. If we were lucky, they
would stand us a beer in the bar afterwards.
Sitting and watching from the sidelines, the weather was warm, and I was allowed to have a cigarette, even though my teachers were sitting metres away. It was out of hours, and we felt a certain amount of liberation. Half time came, and Mr D made his way over to sit next to me. I commented on the progress of the team and after a brief silence, he leant over and whispered in my ear, “You know, you have a very petulant mouth.”
Was that a compliment? I didn’t have a chance to think about it for long as he was called back into bat more or less straight away. Still, the words were there – I turned to my friends and resumed our conversation. I didn’t give it much thought. After the match, the teachers, and my friends and I retired to the bar. I found it rather odd that Mr D sat with us, and not with his colleagues, but the whole mix was intoxicating – here we were, drinking with our teachers, feeling like were in a special group.
It was exquisite, although we knew it would only last until tomorrow morning, until we returned to the humdrum of school life.
Mr D left at the same time as my friends and I. One of my friends had one beer too many, and rode off, into a hedge, much to my amusement.
Mr D and I were going in the same direction, so as we cycled away from the cricket ground, he proposed that we have a drink in another nearby pub. Arriving in the car park, I had second thoughts. There was something strange about a teacher in, what – his 50s? 60s? – having a drink with a single pupil out of school hours. I had already had a beer, but I was used to drinking in pubs with Adrian by now so I knew one more wouldn’t really do me much harm.
But I felt strange about it, and told Mr D that I was going to go home. Before I had chance to breathe, and as fast as lightning, he grabbed me to him, and pressed his lips to mine. In a pause heavy with my own shock, he asked me if I had read Lolita.
I couldn’t breathe. My fear at that moment felt like it was going to choke me. What was happening was wrong on so many levels. I mumbled goodbye, and peddled harder home than i had ever peddled before. I arrived home, and my mum asked me if I wanted to go to the takeaway and get us burgers for dinner.
Anything, i thought. Anything to get the image of Mr D embracing me out of my mind.
The next morning, to get out of going to school, I made out I had a stomach upset. How could I go to school and face him? The thought of it made me palpitate, and I had just settled back into my bed when I heard a knock at the front door, over the sound of my mother’s vacuum. A moment later, my mother’s voice “Claire, can you come down here”.
I peered cautiously down the stairs, and almost collapsed on the spot. There was Mr D in my own hallway.
Mother looked suitably sheepish as he made easy conversation with her. She’d been caught out,
after all, keeping me off school.
“Look, Mr D was worried about your attendance” – which admittedly, was rather appalling – “He’s come to take you back to school.”
My earth felt like it was an inch wide – how was he here? I knew well enough why he was
here – he was frightened I’d said something, told on him. I hadn’t. I was too ashamed to say anything – surely I’d led him on with my petulant mouth? – so no, I hadn’t said anything.
I was silent in the car with him most of the way, until we got to Chanterlands Avenue,
where he announced he was going to make a detour to his flat to pick up his flask. Outside
his flat, he asked me if I wanted to come in with him. I said I’d wait in the car. He was gone for 10 minutes, and then he drove me to the supermarket, where he bought me 10 menthol cigarettes.
Back at school, I stood smoking one at a time in the girls toilets, shaking, waiting for lessons to end and break time to start. My friend Cathy came in, and I grabbed her, hustling her into the booth.
“I have to tell you something.” I said. And I told her everything that had happened after she had left me the night before.
She listened, took a drag from my cigarette, and said finally,
“He was drunk.”
Her smile was fixed. I could tell that the conversation was over. In her world, the things I was describing did not happen, and she had no way of processing it.
It wasn’t really her fault. However, I should have known then that this would be a pattern.
How many girls are not believed at just such a point. For it only to get worse. Which it did
All names, apart from my own, have been changed
About the Author: Claire Meadows
Since September 2012, I have been chief writer and editor for the current affairs and arts blog After Nyne, and now After Nyne Magazine (to launch February 2014).
I became a Huffington Post blogger in November 2012.
I am the author of two published poetry books Gold After, and Brittle Fires for Tempest Press's Virgo Rising imprint.
From September 2012 to February 2013, I was Founding Director of Tempest Public Relations, working with a range of clients including Irish American writer Micheal O Coinn, whose debut poetry pamphlet, Five Words, was published by my publishing house Tempest Press, and Callie Carling, author of breast cancer memoir Callie's Story, also published by Tempest Press.
I also acted as the official UK PR consultant to the US based Free Sara Kruzan campaign's Day of Action in London in 2012.
Before this, I was founding director of artist's agency Liquid Gallery - parent company of the Liquid Art Fair Battersea, and Nyne Magazine.
Outside of work, I have a keen film historian, with a particular interest in films from the 1930s to the 1960s. I am a voracious and omnivorous reader, and enjoy cooking, and country pubs with my husband and dog, Willow.