Art like this communicates and helps the healing process. The light this candid, inspired and powerful expression shines will continue to make the world a safer place by helping others to be alert to the existence of the sexual abuse in communities. One part that really hits me hard as a man is the strong, bold phrase in purple “NOT ALL MEN”
After Townshend’s victims have been neglected and misstreated, they may wish to take their allegations to everyonesinvited.uk where “victims can post anonymous accounts of abuse they have suffered.” Many girls at Townshend still have an un-realized right to safety, justice and to acknowledgement so that they may heal. The world should know.
Allegations of sexual abuse made by school pupils on a website are “shocking and abhorrent”, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said.
A friend of from Townshend International School community sent me the above article highlighting how allegations may be responded to in a school setting. It’s an interesting read with important implications relevant to our experience over the past year working at Townshend, where adult sexual misconduct allegations are minimized and whistleblowers shamed- putting students at risk and harming victims by making them effectively invisible, stifling their voice, and impeding their healing. Male students are also not unaffected. They are at risk of dangerously stifled development and harmful moral education in an environment which encourages students to look the other way and “move foreward” or are advised “don’t be so negative” weather or not victims have been justly treated or afforded safety or even acknowledgement and affirmation of their experiences. One Townsend mother to a boy in the dorms tearfully stated in a parent zoom meeting “I want my son to be brought up to believe believe victims”.
So far among victims and other members of the community we have endured multiple accounts of suicidal ideation as well as hospitalization; a wide-spread loss of the ability to trust adults, institutions and/or religion and an atrociously large number community members essentially fleeing- including the resignation of a large proportion of school staff often citing ethical grounds and/or massive safeguarding concerns. It’s a large tole for something that either didn’t happen or wasn’t that bad.
The BBC article chronicles a growing awareness of, and maturing response to sexual abuse in academic environments in the midst of outcry from vulnerable students who feel unsafe in their schools and who have turned to the streets for recognition and support.
No school should be a place “where young people feel unsafe” or where abuse could take place,
SIC | Education Secretary Gavin Williamson
The article points to an online initiative “where victims can post anonymous accounts of abuse they have suffered.”
The website Everyone’s Invited has recorded 8,000 testimonies of sexual abuse from pupils.
Let’s see what sort of response there has been to such a public facing site with anonymous allegations:
The Department for Education, the Home Office and the National Police Chiefs’ Council were in touch with the Everyone’s Invited website to provide support, protection and advice, he added.
At Townshend in contrast, whistleblowers were referred to as “barking little dogs” by an administrator to the alleged perpetrator early in the investigation. The menace of legal action was brandished against at least one student for speaking out. Students were shamed with religious sanctimony about unity, having a sin-covering eye, and avoiding rumors. Leads and evidence furnished by anonymous allegations were not investigated in a ‘supportive and protective‘ manner (as depicted in the BBC article) but instead were referred to as having “the deliberate and mischievous intent of spreading rumors and misinformation in the community”. The alleged perpetrators were exonerated with the expressed ‘impression’ that “words and actions were not motivated by sexual intent” despite how a large number of vulnerable students have described their own impressions of a variety of experiences of what (they indicate) ranges from sexual misconduct to abuse.
The school received anonymized victim allegations which were collected by one “Jane Doe” (victim) first hand. Her messages represented a tremendous opportunity for the school to glean further information from these carefully collected leads- in which for accuracy, even the spelling and grammar mistakes were preserved by the thoughtful student.
Without tools, expertise or experience I found out the identity of “Jane Doe” by sending her a supportive reply message. Jane Doe revealed her identity to me before other adults and on the same day that I emailed her simply because I was a trusted adult who reached out in a supportive manner. I tried desperately for a year to convey what students shared with me and to encourage students to come foreword to the administration but the school’s response has been mostly harmful and indifferent.
A school ultimately is susceptible to the reputation it earns and may loose the ine it attempts to manufacture. While many students have been profoundly harmed I know that there are many who will do all they can to support and protect them and to try to remain worthy or their trust and friendship.
When I was a teenager, some thirty years ago I remember reading that Muhammad was caught in a scandal on the eve of the most dangerous battle of the prophet’s life. Most of the believers expected for themselves, total annihilation and trembled as they spiritually prepared to disappear from the world.
In this mood, and condition Muhamad’s wives were over-heard bickering with him in his tent in the evening. The men confronted him in the morning saying “what will you do about these wives of yours?”
“Nothing” was his serene reply. The Muslims were bewildered and angry. One of them said “If my wife had spoken with me in this haughty way I would not hesitate to kill her where she stood. Then how can you claim to be a prophet of God and do nothing about this outrage?” To this he answered only: “Remember the wombs from which you have come.” and turned and left them to their dismay. At this insult, half of the Muslims defected and joined their enemies at a time when they were already hopelessly outnumbered. Those who remained were terrified and desperate, but Muhammad reassured them, promising that those who remained steadfast would be strengthened and protected by the angels themselves. Muslims were now outnumbered, ten to one. But the ensuing battle the next day saw a decisive victory in favor of the Muslims. The Muslims in fact had almost no casualties.
As far as I am aware (correct me if I am wrong) Muhammad to this day is the only prophet of any of the great religions to have devoted an entire chapter of his holy book to the upliftment of women and to their legal protection, with arguments in support of their rights, their noble qualities and indispensability to the maintenance of community well-being and to life itself as mothers. In it – the Surah entitled “Alnisa” (the Women) he remarked ‘remember the wombs from which you came’ in the first paragraph just as he told the Muslims the fateful night before their most glorious battle on their perilous journey back home.
“Words must be supported by deeds, for deeds are the true test of words. Without the former, the latter can never quench the thirst of the yearning soul, nor unlock the portals of vision before the eyes of the blind.”
I was thinking this morning about how for 400 some years of US history, the institution of slavery went largely un-challenged. There was a small minority of the population that owned slaves- that is some among the wealthy, white and male, and only in the south. And yet the entire black race suffered – not only because of these slave owners, but due to the vast majority of other white people for hundreds of years, who were largely unwilling to take the kinds of risks Lincoln took on behalf of the vulnerable. It is through our deeds or lack there-of, that we stand to become worthy of the trust of others- and earn a good or poor reputation.
Yesterday afternoon 2021.03.22, I awoke from a nap in which I strongly remembered a scene/image from a dream. It was just a scene- no movement but the strong sense of the pushing away of the ground human flesh – by way of a hand pushing out of the mouth that was being offered the flesh. It was just like this – a disembodied head, upon a table, rejecting the offering. I only added the little sign or the viewer wouldn’t know it was human flesh. I’m sure this one is named “protest” and today – I drew it. I am so grateful to Sol and to Juliet whose own art, whose conversations and sharing’s have been so encouraging and inspiring to me to express myself in this way again – which I am finding so far, incredibly healing, a beautiful experience as well as therapeutic.
Today I just wanted to share a sort of audio-journal meditation on the beauty of the friendships formed over the past year among a group of some close community members affected by struggles we have experienced over the past year together seeing students in our community mistreated.
I remember loving Sinead O’Connor as a teenager. She is a beautiful soul. She cut her hair extremely short in order to reduce her attractiveness so people wouldn’t look at her as another pretty face. But it didn’t work. She was so pretty, cutting her hair didn’t change things.
The first thing that happened was she was vilified and lost her career. Saturday night live (the venue she chose for her notorious protest) showcased an actor threatening to beat Sinead who was herself an abuse survivor. The second thing that happened- is that after many years, the world realized that she was right and that the suffering of victims was continuing while the world ignored it. She was the first to stand up for abused children all over the Catholic world, before it was popular or even permissible to do so. She spoke up at a time when her actions really cost her something. But this made it easier for others to find their voice and to get help.
She named and shamed. She broke ranks. She broke rules. She broke hearts. People saw it as a mean-spirited attack against the church. She said the things no-one was prepared to hear – the problem the world had was, she was speaking the truth.
I want to encourage you to listen to a song she wrote which is like an unbelievably simple and heart-rending chant in which she says thank you for hearing me. It’s a song about the importance of listening to people, to your friends, to strangers, to victims. Hear them out – don’t silence them – don’t talk over them. Don’t reframe their experience for them. Give a down-trodden person your attention and let your heart be taken.
“Firstly yesterday 2020.08.09 I had a brief nap during which time I dreamed I was heading towards the office area at Townshend with a pallet knife that opens out like a pocket knife. [The school director] looked at it with alarm because it looked like a violent tool to him – superficially resembling a pocket knife as I opened it up. [the residential director] was behind him and appeared frightened and kind of hiding behind him.
I explained that the knife was not the cutting kind but was for paintings and that the painting we all were making had some old, dry paint and some dirt that needed scraping off and also that the pallet knife I had was also to be used as a brush in order to apply new paint and repair the image. In other words I wasn’t harming the image – I was actually coming to repair and clean it. He seemed skeptical but before anything further happened I awoke. There was the sense though that I was going to continue towards the office area.”
This dream really reflects the two different approaches concerning what harms or helps the school - especially it's reputation. The efforts I made were to towards creating a space where victims could have a voice and be visible. My primary concern was for the students, not for the school's reputation- however I felt (as I expressed in the dream) that the only way to protect the school's reputation was to "cut the crap" (the old, corrosion and paint- maybe symbolic of harmful BS) off of the image we are creating together as a community so that a new, healing and truthful image could be produced. Unfortunately this was viewed as harmful to the schools reputation and seen as a threat to the school.
This scene happened on my last day at Townshend. A student and I said good-bye to a bird that perished by flying into a window of the boy’s dorm. The memory for me represents a beautiful good-bye to this student, to the student community as well as to this beautiful bird. This memory carries a lot of cherished emotions and sadness. I finished drawing it this morning and offer it to honor and to morn. At the same time – I sense these beautiful friendships will continue and grow in wonderful ways. In a way then- we are only saying “see you later” and what has died is something about the heart of the school – not the community. I feel like it’s the best community in the world. Of course it’s not literally OK to say that but just – that’s the feeling for me.