No excuse for this abuse

6th June 2008 at 01:00
He was a young refugee from a brutal regime, but he couldn't be allowed to mistreat others
He was a young refugee from a brutal regime, but he couldn't be allowed to mistreat others

George is an asylum-seeker. He has had an awful life. I cannot comprehend some of the things that he has seen. Watching his mother raped by a platoon of government soldiers. His father "disappeared" for handing out leaflets, never to be seen again.

I can never understand what it must feel like to flee to another country on the other side of the world to save yourself. Suddenly to become alien, and yet always with the fear that you will be sent back.

But while all this can explain, it can never excuse. And what George did was inexcusable. For which part of this dreadful tale allows you to put your hands inside a girl's clothes? Because that is what happened.

It was at the end of a busy technology lesson. In the middle of putting away, George put his hands down Emma's trousers. It wasn't a fleeting fumble. It was skilful and purposeful. Emma retired to the toilets in tears and it took quite a while for her to summon up the courage to tell what had happened to her.

But once she came forward, the floodgates opened. All these other offences suddenly emerged. The older girls had already had a word and told him in no uncertain terms what they would do if he continued to touch them. So George selected his victims more carefully. He started to isolate younger, more fearful girls. We knew we had a serial offender.

I wondered whether his tragic life had in fact destroyed any sense of what was right or wrong. George is clearly unable to behave in the company of girls. How could I continue to put them at risk?

He won't be 13 forever. What will happen when he is older?

I didn't want to permanently exclude George, even though I could have done so. I wanted to put something in place that would support a needy boy. But I also had a responsibility to 13 girls. I sent him home and worked with other agencies to put something in place for him. I was clear that he could never come back to school.

And because of this, I brought down upon myself all the demons of hell. The moment I put him out of school, an army of social workers appeared to defend him. They had no concern at all for poor Emma.

Immediately they were looking for legal loopholes. Had I had all letters translated into the home language? Had I sent letters to both George and his mother? When I had spoken to George, had I used a translator? Did George understand what he was accused of? How could I be sure? How could I make a judgement without witnesses? Why had I believed Emma?

Obviously he was the victim of a conspiracy once again. Only his social workers really understood and supported him. I was part of an insensitive and intolerant culture that was determined to beat him down

It was madness. Of course there were no witnesses. He was far too careful for that.

What about the sisterhood? In their desire to protect someone they saw as a victim, they adopted a bizarre position. Women social workers were asking me to exclude innocent and unworldly Emma because she was lying. They looked me in the eye and told me that the absence of witnesses meant all 13 girls were lying.

It was obvious that the lovely George, who had had such a tragic life, could not have done these things. In his culture, people were naturally more demonstrative than us. His natural friendliness was being misinterpreted. In fact, he was being led on by a promiscuous predator. He had spurned her advances. I was adopting a racist position, reflecting my opposition to all asylum-seekers.

And yet this was not the worst of it. George is an outstanding soccer player. The biggest European football clubs want him - but a sanitised version. As a result, he has become a piece of flesh to be traded. Little clubs want to sell him to the big ones for a profit. And the big ones want him so they can save themselves some money.

But what none of them wanted was a cloud that might hang over him. So don't exclude him, let him play for the school boys team. He can change his life.

I was invited to sweep things under the carpet. It couldn't have been that bad and anyway, are you sure the girl wasn't lying? And what did he actually do? Kids have been at it for generations. Football is George's salvation. Emma will be fine.

Emma's needs and evidence were questioned. How can I be sure?

Yes I was sure. I know he did it. I am a teacher, not a lawyer. Are we to deny Emma her basic rights simply because it doesn't fit into our priorities?

They were both victims. But what had Emma done? She came to school on a Thursday at the age of 12 and found a boy pushing his hands down her trousers. Complete strangers, who never met her, sat with me and questioned her sexual history. As if she had one.

What was their intention? To get him back into a school where there were brothers and fathers ready to break his legs with baseball bats?

George is now being educated at home and I receive regular threatening letters from his supporters. Refugee workers and support groups tell me that I denied him his rights to an education.

The nature of what he has done means no other school can ever accept him. How could any headteacher take the risk and explain to the governors that he is sorry he assaulted a girl behind the kitchen, that he knew about the 13 in his previous school, but had hoped he was better now?

But this is further evidence that I have demonised an innocent boy and destroyed his hopes of salvation.

And Emma? She has had to move to another school to try and pick up the pieces. She has been punished for telling the truth and for standing up for herself. So is George the only victim?

And if George does ever play for a posh football team, I hope she will cheer him on in the same way that I will.

John Sutton is a pseudonym. He teaches in North Wales.

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