Review - The awful sound of a child's spirit being broken

26th September 2008 at 01:00

There are some moments that you know will stay with you for the rest of your life. The moment that Alastair Rolfe pauses is one of those. Speaking on the Channel 4 documentary Chosen, about the teacher who repeatedly abused him when he was 11-years-old, Mr Rolfe says: "He said to me, `this might be painful.'"

Then the pause, before he speaks again: "And it was."

That pause is the sound of a child's spirit being broken. In that moment's silence, an adulthood splinters into pieces.

Watching the documentary, I felt physically sick.

The most disturbing part of the programme is the success of the grooming process. These boys felt complicit in what was happening to them. They, not their abusers, were the ones who felt guilty.

They even enjoyed it, to a degree. Mark Payge, one of the other Chosen interviewees, says: "The most horrible thing about it is that that authority that was so abusive had an undercurrent of sexual pleasure."

Above all, these were boys who wanted to please their teacher. They wanted to do what the teacher told them. And therefore they kept silent.

And that - their childish desire for adult approval - is disturbingly familiar.

There was nothing about these boys that marked them out as victims. Their eagerness to please is instantly recognisable in any number of modern, well-adjusted 11-year-olds.

I certainly recognise it - I was the kind of excessively conscientious pupil who always did what the teacher said.

So the question begged by the documentary is unavoidable: what would you have done if it were you? If a teacher called you into his study and started to touch you?

Accosted by a paedophile teacher, most of us would have been quietly submissive victims, too. And that knowledge is deeply unsettling.

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