Sunday 21 January 2018


At the time it didn’t feel like abuse. Yes, there was a clandestine cloak over the event, in the shape of the pump shed behind the school pool, but to me and my mate, more than anything, it just felt exciting.

Well, that’s what I thought at the time, yet invisible to my teenage consciousness, deep innate within me, a moral code governed my memory.

Hence there I was, driving the backroads of Ballygonefishing a few years ago, when my brain decided that after 40 years, the time had come to return that event to my life.

Oh yeh, that happened.



We were 13 year-old boys, in our final year at Prep School, and I was flying high: Patrol Leader, Dormitory Prefect, almost top of the class, loaded with friends and having fun.

Our boy bodies were changing. We never met any girls, and knew all there was to know about sex, as long it was between locusts.

You needed no experience to teach at private English schools.The only requirement was an Oxbridge degree, to placate paying parents, so Prep and Public schools were magnets for sexual predators.

He was young, charismatic and as popular with the boys as a Master was permitted to be. He asked me and my mate if we’d ever fooled around, and then he took us to that pump shed and showed us photos of his ejaculation.

We’d never even seen an erect mature penis, so were grateful to him for contributing to our wholly inadequate sex education. There was no physical contact and although it evidently had to remain a secret, I did not feel wronged.

I remember well the emotional, physical and verbal abuse we suffered from teachers on a daily basis. Yet, of its own accord, my brain erased all memory of the photos from my life for 40 years. 

Had I felt traumatised at the time I’d understand. For me it proves we have an innate sense of right and wrong, an in-built ethos that precludes the necessity of artificial religious codes.

Several years ago I was walking down Taylor’s Hill, ushering a group of teenage girls back to their clubhouse. I’d only been working with this group for a couple of weeks, and things had not been going well.

For years the club had been run by a young woman from the local community. All the girls loved her, so when they saw the verbal aggression and antipathy she showed towards me, the teenagers picked up on it.

Our group of 15 girls were spread out over 20 yards of pavement, their long-term leader at the front, with me a good five yards behind the last girl.

“Charlie touched me! Charlie touched me, miss!”

Various screams of shock and amusement from the other girls.

After 8 years as a youth worker I’d learned not to get sucked in. I literally bit my lip, to stop myself protesting “No I didn't!” out loud. 
Any verbal exchange would prove fatal.

Instead I waited for my colleague at the front to respond.

Not a single word came.

As we walked down the hill the girl continued to shout that I’d touched her.
Continuing my silence I looked down towards Galway and saw my life here crumble in an instant. This life I loved, gone: obliterated by a whimsical teen.

This is a small place. Innocent or guilty, once the word is out, you’re screwed. Gossip will create terrible fictions. Friends will become erstwhile. Jobs will disappear. I’d have to move. A refugee from falsehood.

My silence continued, and gradually my accuser failed to remove the laughter from her voice. At no time did a word of support emanate from the person I was supposed to be working with.

As soon as they were back in the clubhouse I walked home, called my boss and resigned. I did not feel safe in my workplace.

You could say I’m lucky. My abuse was not physical, although the mental repercussions are still becoming clear. A year after that exposure I was bottom of the class, friendless and three stone heavier. 

In the past I put that down to the fact that I didn’t fit into the mould of English Public Schools, which exist only to create Oxbridge candidates. Uninterested in that future, I felt discarded; expendable. 

Now I wonder.

The feeling of being wrongly accused was utterly terrifying.

What an indictment of our culture, that it takes Oprah to lead the charge, after society deems the crimes of the Church and the boasts of the US President insufficient to change behaviours.

Now we hear talk of a backlash, of men hitting back against women. After centuries of the physical torture endured by women at the hands of men, even the word feels inappropriate.

I have written in the past about my disappointment with the way some women have abused their hard won power. Inevitably attacking men, they use the same sexist language that they battled to eradicate, while displaying attitudes they previously claimed to abhor; but equally, no, this is not the time for a backlash.

It’ll never be time for that.

If there is to be a dreadful avalanche of accusations then we must adhere to due process. I know how it feels to be abused, and I know how it feels to be wrongly accused. 

Vigilantes are not the answer, but neither is a backlash.

Revolutions have a horrible habit of leaving behind losers. Hopefully, as the abused come forward and society takes note, respects them and convicts their abusers, women will gradually grow to trust the billions of good guys out here, who are appalled yet still hated and feared.

We’re on the same side, so let’s talk less of backlashes and more of heartfelt mutual respect.
©Charlie Adley

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