You ignored my pain, Mr Spender;Talkback

1st October 1999 at 01:00
What were you thinking of Mr Spender, when you looked at the livid bruises on my back? What were you thinking of when you saw me looking? You know I saw you looking at me. I turned away only to realise that my classmates had a closer view than you did.

Changing for PE, there was nowhere for me to hide my mother's shame written so clearly across my back for all to see. It has taken me 35 years to realise that you deliberately ignored it, Mr Spender.

It wasn't just once, or twice. Did you ever wonder why I always lost my swimming trunks on the days the class trooped off to the municipal pool? Or learned to change for PE with my back to the wall? Hated summer time? Well I'll tell you. Mum used to knock me about a bit. Taking your shirt off has added significance when part of her technique was to hit me where, mostly, she thought people wouldn't notice.

Occasionally when she got really mad, she'd miss and hit my head. To this day I have a lump there, still well hidden under my hair. By 10 you've learned to accept it, provided it's private. The worst thing is for others to find out. But they always do.

Your mates see it in your eyes. You avoid fights. Your knuckles and forearms are raw from trying to defend yourself. And what's the point in joining a fight when you are in pain before it starts? Yes, I learned to be a coward early. That pain lasted for weeks, months, years - well in my case a decade or three. And now, Mr Spender, I can still see that flash of recognition in your eyes, that thump in your heart when you first knew I was being abused. But you did nothing. That makes us both cowards, then. You were the only one with some kind of authority who might have spoken on my behalf, but you didn't.

Now I teach student teachers to teach, Mr Spender. What do you suggest I tell them about dealing with child abuse? Do you still think silence is the best policy? I hope not Mr Spender. If I were to tell my students about how it affected me, they would be embarrassed, look at the floor, giggle nervously, even leave the room.

The conspiracy of silence perpetuates the horror, until some brave teacher stands up for those children who cannot do so for themselves, Mr Spender.

The author is a senior lecturer in a northern college

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