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Joelle says ‘I wished I never said anything … I was being punished for telling’

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Joelle was disbelieved by staff at school and ostracised by other pupils when she reported sexual abuse by a teacher.

Joelle was 12 years old when a teacher at her school started grooming her. He went on to sexually abuse her over the following two years. 

Mr Jeeves was a subject teacher and had a role in pastoral care.In addition, he was a youth leader and a sports coach in the local area.

The first incident took place after a school play when Mr Jeeves asked Joelle to help him with his costume. He pressed himself up against her – she remembers feeling uncomfortable but did not fully understand what was happening.

On a residential school trip, Mr Jeeves used the showers in the block where the girls were sleeping, rather than the staff facilities. He started holding Joelle’s hand, and once when she was feeling unwell, he got under the blanket she had been given, wearing only his shorts. Another teacher saw him do this.

Back at school, after the trip, the abuse escalated with Mr Jeeves touching her genital area and breasts. By this time she was in her early teens. 

On one occasion, the teacher called Joelle to his office on the pretext of some school work, and he simulated sex with her on his desk. Afterwards, he apologised and hugged her.

She remembers being very shaken when she went back to her lesson, but can’t recall if she told her friends what had happened.

Joelle remembers Mr Jeeves saying ‘odd things … as if it was an affair’. But he also once said 'I feel like I've destroyed you'.

She knew that he was married with children and wanted to tell him that he had to stop. She says ‘I thought I loved him ... knowing he was married I felt I was doing something wrong'.

By this time she had told her friends what was happening.

Joelle decided to tell her mum, and with support from her family, she reported the abuse to the school. The headteacher said words to the effect that Mr Jeeves could not be an abuser because he was a family man. She also told a lot of people in the school that he was ‘innocent until proven guilty’. 

After this, several of Joelle’s friends stopped speaking to her. She says ‘They treated me like I was a liar and deserved punishment'.

The weeks went by, and the school did not contact Joelle’s family, so her mother requested a meeting. The police were informed and interviewed Joelle. After another few weeks, they interviewed Mr Jeeves but decided not to take the case further as it was ‘one person’s word against another’.

Mr Jeeves continued teaching at the school. Joelle’s family moved away from the area.

When she was in her mid-teens, Joelle was raped. She went to a sexual health clinic and a nurse encouraged her to report the rape, but because of her previous experience she didn’t want to. However, the nurse arranged for Joelle to see a youth support worker and she says this was really helpful. 

Joelle suffered a number of adverse impacts because of the abuse she suffered. After her disclosure, she was bullied in school and on social media. She began drinking heavily in her teenage years and put herself in risky situations. She has struggled with feelings of guilt and anger, and has had depression and suicidal thoughts. 

Joelle would like to see improved awareness of inappropriate behaviour by adults and says that it is vital that children feel listened to and supported. She relates ‘It was easier for them to believe that I had a massive crush on my teacher, than to believe he had abused me’.

She concludes that sharing her experience with the Truth Project is ‘the first time I have been given the opportunity to talk to people who wanted to listen and wanted to know’.

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