Day 2. Deborah*, 15.

Sunday 26th November, 2023

You might be wondering why Rachel, yesterday, didn’t tell a teacher about the boy harassing her. Well Deborah did….

I stood with my head bowed and shoulders hunched.
I kept my back to the wall.
Maybe this time I’d get into class before he started.
But no.
His hand on my arm as I try to twist away from the other hand.
The fingers that start under my chin, trailing down my neck.
I try to push him off before they get lower still.
The class laugh.
Relief floods through me as the teacher finally arrives.
Calls everyone into line.
But doesn’t see what was happening.
Or doesn’t want to see.

He doesn’t care.
It’s a laugh.
It’s a joke.
Between each lesson as we crowd in the corridor outside classrooms.
I try to avoid him.
He tries to touch me.
I feel sick.

I hated those times he would brush past me.
I’d tense,
He’d smile, knowing he’d got a reaction.
His hand on my arm, my back, my side, anywhere,
Just for a fleeting second.
Didn’t mean to. Just passing.
No. On purpose.
I knew.
He knew.
The whole class knew and laughed as I squirmed.

Then one day I snapped.
I had enough.
Standing too close in a drama lesson.
The teachers attention elsewhere.
His hands fluttered against my bottom.
I walked offstage and sat down.

“I can’t work with him” was my response when questioned.
“Both stay behind at the end”.
The class dismissed, I heard “don’t grass”
Whispered around as I waited.
But I did. I told the teacher how he kept trying to touch me.
“I fancy her” was the lad’s reply, cut off before he could say more.
I knew he didn’t.
That it was just a laugh.
The teacher asked if I liked him.
I shot a horrified no, and was sent away, told not to worry.

I don’t know what was said.
He never touched me again.

But it was a high price.
Now it was “grass” “sneak”
And scornful looks”
Even from the girls.

We learn not to tell at an early age, we learn to keep our mouth shut and cover up. Whether it’s fear of being called “a grass” or fear of not being believed, or blamed, or simply the stigma and shame of what has happened to us.

And yet, “why didn’t she say so sooner?” is still the question on everyone’s lips when we do finally break the silence.

*Not her real name