The eyes of the country have turned towards something that has been going on for many many years, that is the sexual harassment and violence that girls face in our schools. I have so much I want to say on this subject, that I almost have to breath deep to ensure I get what needs to be said out. Channel 4 news put a short piece in January “The scale of school sexual harassment and violence in schools” and we have the “Everyone’s invited “ website where people are encouraged to write about their experiences.
And so, to give some context to this who thing, as I can see mw having to write a series of blogs and posts to fully expose what has been going on, I think I will start at the beginning…or….as near as the begging as I can right now…
When I was in primary school there was a game. I use the word “game” loosely, but it was, in my eyes a game , and one I didn’t like. I used to call it “feel ups”. I do not remember if it was called that all the time, but I am guessing I heard the name at one point and in my head it stuck. No one ever said when the game was going to be played if I remember righty, but I could always tell when it was going to. Like a tension in the air.
“Feel ups” was like kiss chase. The boys would chase you around the playground and if they caught you then you had to kiss them or, sometimes they would catch you and make a clumsy and sometimes painful) grab for a breast or bum or private areas. They would just stick their hands outs and grab. Or, the worst one for me, a few would charge you at a time and they would all be grabbing at you at the same time.
I can not tell you how much I hated this game. It has only been recently that I have realised just to what extent this was damaging to me. To all of us.
Not all the boys that played this game did the same thing. Some, when they caught you could just grab your arm, let go and run off. Some would catch you and …like…try and kiss you on your head or something very clumsy.
Some would do the other stuff. Anyone reading this who went to school with me will know instantly who done what.
I hated this game for so many reasons.
First, you didn’t get a choice. When the games started you couldn’t say “na…I’m good thanks”. Everyone they chose to be involved was involved. As soon as the game started, I would say I feel sick and say to a member of staff that I wanted to go to the sick room. Sometimes they would let me, sometimes they would tell me to sit on the bench and “get air”. Sitting on the bench made you a sitting target when the game was being played so that was a no. Sometimes I would just stand near members of staff. Other kids would come up and make comment. Saying I was chicken not to play and that I was a baby.
So usually when the game started, I would run for my life. Literally. Round and round the playground. You could not risk running into the girl’s toilets, because the boys would follow you and if you didn’t get to the cubical quick enough or lock the door in time, not only would you be sexually assaulted you also ended up with pissy water all over your clothes from falling to the ground or pushed against the toilet.
Because this is sexual assault, we are talking about is it not? Touching someone in a sexual manner with no consent?
Anyway, back to the game.
Another trick of mine, which worked well, was to stand by the one noy who didn’t take part in all this. He was on a different level to the other boys, had started later than us. People didn’t fuck with him. He was different. And if is stood by him and said I didn’t want to play, the other boys would leave me alone. Or they would come running up and he would look at them, give his little screw face and they would go away. But sometimes he was playing football. Or was doing something in school.
They would start this kind of chant, just before they would start chasing. I can not remember the words, but the groups would storm around the playground chanting something like “kiss chase kiss chase”. This would happen about a minute or so before they started chasing. I used to hear that chanting and feel like I was going to wet myself. I would feel instantly sick. Some of the girls would start giggle and laughing. Some would, like me, go very pale and quiet.
Then there would be like a mini roar and the chase would begin.
I would start running towards staff if I could, or the boy, but if not, I would try and run to the centre of the playground. Not much would happen if you stayed there. But if you stayed there too long, then a group of the boys would come charging over, all grab you by your arm or whatever, and pull you over the part of the playground where no one looked. Behind the lunch hall.
When they come for me in the middle of the playground I would fight. I would be shouting “Get off me” and “Leave me alone”. I would kick and hit. I would kick those boys shins so hard my toes hurt. It just made them wore. And they would al pull you over to wherever. All sort of bundle on top. Around you for a minute and all grab and touch. Soe would even try and kiss. I guess each time I lasted seconds. Maybe a minute. And it scared me to my core. There were two boys who would try and grab for the crotch area each time. They would just grab under your skirt and try and touch your vagina.
Then they would run off saying things like “She aint got no tits” or “I touched her, and she liked it”.
They would body shame you so bad that the other girls would sometimes also take the piss out of you. Well….me anyway.
Some of the boys would bite.
I would also have bruising after that game.
One day, after a particular horrendous round of “feel ups” I went home. When I walked in my mum was cooking, looked up and almost dropped the bowl she was mixing in. “what the hell happened to you “she said rushing to me, grabbing my face.
I had no idea what to say to be fair. By this point I was experiencing many different forms of abuse that I would not have even known where to start. She shook her head and took me to the bathroom and stood me in front of the mirror.
My hair, which when I left for school that morning had been in a high ponytail. Ong blond hair bobbing along as I went to school, was now on the side of my head. It looked like someone had grabbed my ponytail and dragged me to the floor. Oh wait…they had.
But the main reason mum was looking at me in such shock was because below my eyes I had a bite mark. You could see the teeth indentations, round, like someone had tried to bite me cheek off.
She asked me what happened. I just looked at her. She then looked at my forearm that had bruising on. Like thumb prints. She shouted something. She pushed me back and looked at my legs, covered in bruises…as always.
“What the hell happed” she said.
And I spoke
I said the words easily as a child would say “tag” or “hide and seek”.
She asked me what that was.
And so, I told her.
Now, as a 41-year-old mother with a 11-year-old daughter, I finally understand the look that my mother had on her face that day. Her mouth kind of fell open and she swiftly covered it with her hand. And then the fierce hug. She grabbed me tightly into her, and I didn’t really like it. She was gaunt. It was a bony hum with a smell that lingered between fags and soft mint sweets. And then her crying whilst she hugged me but trying to pretend, she was not. And lots of soothing words.
Man…what I would give for one of those hugs again one day.
She asked me lots of questions and I can still feel the burning in my cheeks as I answered them. Then, when I went to bed that night, I heard my mum making herself sick in the bathroom. She done that often but that was the first time I actually knew she was doing it and it confused me. Because I felt dirty already ad wondered if it was me making her sick.
The next day my mum took me to school and demanded to see the head. I didn’t get to see any of this, I went to class. At playtime, as I got ready to go out, a member of staff said I would not be playing out in the playground today that I would sit in the library and do art. I shrugged and went.
When the other kids came in, they told me about the best football match they had all played and I decided that I would not miss out on playtime again. So, the next day when they said I could not go out, I just run out into the playground anyway and because I was already named as a naughty child, they just let me, too much hard work to chase me around.
For a while, my mum asked me if “feel ups” was still going on and I always said no. It had stopped now. It hadn’t, but I knew that if I told her the I would be kept in and I didn’t want that., Well…I wated to be kept in when that game was played but not the other days.
If the above shocks you…. then you have a lot to learn. Our children are exposed to many different sexual assaults within schools all the time. Many people have no idea they are even happening.
“Feel ups” could have been stopped in 3 ways.
Staff challenging children who were clearly acting in an inappropriate manner.
Contextual safeguarding applied and the school assessed for unsafe spaces and places.
The school took action on what my mother told them, rather than thinking it could be solved with just keeping me …the victim…in.
Because the game never stopped after I told my mum.
There were two-members of staff who would stop the game instantly. They would hear the chanting or see the running and it would be squashed instantly. Others either looked the other way or just looked the other way.
This was in mainstream school.
I was permanently excluded from mainstream school in year 5. I was PRU educated from then on.
This happened in year 5. I had not started puberty. I had no breast to grab and so when I got caught by the boys who were aggressive, they would all grab and touch the same part of my body.
This was not the first and most definitely not the last sexual abuse/ assault/ exposure that I experienced.
Wake up people.