Trigger warning: this story contains scenes of sexual assault which readers might find triggering.
I don’t think it matters if you remember me, what does, is that you were my teacher when I was 10, and you taught me a lesson I never forgot. I remember how you liked everything to be neat. Our trays, our handwriting, the tops of our tables. Even the line on the way into class had to be perfect. So, you appointed line monitors. They changed every so often, but I was one of the first. A few times walking down the line, while making sure everyone was standing in the right position, facing the right direction, ready to go to class as soon as you came to the outer door, I noticed a boy standing very close to the girl in front of him. But, as previously stated, as long as he was facing the right way, and directly behind her, it wasn’t my job to move him. But then the month ended, and with it my ignorant bliss. I was no longer line monitor. I was now the girl he stood too close to. But I told myself he was a friend – he didn’t have many, I had reminded myself. Since moving from Poland his English hadn’t improved all that much, and the boys were always mean to him. So, me, the welcoming child that I was, brought him into my friend group, played games with him, tried to understand who he was without using words. The language barrier wasn’t big enough to stop a 10-year-old with an ‘overactive imagination’, as you called it. But soon he got closer, I not only felt his presence, but his hands. I told him he wasn’t to do that, and he told me he didn’t understand. I was 10, who was I to explain it to him. You scolded me for chatting in the line. He was absent for a while; it was probably only a day or two but in my young mind it was weeks. During this time, the girls got to talking. We compared notes, picking out similarities of where, when, how he had touched us. What we had said. How he had reacted. I can remember how nervous we were to tell you, we never knew who else to go to, you were our sole support system. We linked arms on the way to class. Thinking back, I can imagine what you had seen. 5 girls, in knee length grey skirts, baggy dark blue jumpers. Innocent faces with bitten lips and worried eyes. You, no doubt, saw the linked arms as a symbol of a game, we were pretending, ‘melodramatic’ you wrote in my report card. But that connection, the jostling of elbows and grasping of fingertips, was the only thing that made us walk up the stairs and not run away once we reached the door. But some time after we told you, when he was back at school and away to his English lesson, you got one of the girls to stand by the door and make sure he didn’t come back early. At first, I was hopeful, smiling at the girls and nodding encouragingly. This is it, I thought. He’s never coming back to this class; he will never stand behind me again. And that’s when the excuses started. “He’s from a different culture.” “You need to be more understanding.” “Different countries accept these sorts of things.” And they never stopped. “Her top was low cut. She wore so much makeup. She’s been with loads of boys.” “I never knew that meant no.” “I didn’t think you were that drunk.” I still think about what you said that day. I thought about it the time a boy stuck his hand down my trousers when I was so intoxicated I couldn’t tell him to stop. I thought about it in a nightclub when I had to push a boy to the ground so he would let me go. I thought about it again when I woke up with bruises, and no memory of what happened to me, only rumours and lies to piece together an unimaginable truth. What would you have told me then? While I clawed at my skin trying to find the answers of what that boy had done to it? After all, he was once a little boy who peeked up girls skirts and was never admonished for it. He had heard his favourite teacher tell a female pupil, ‘those trousers look good on you.’ Do you remember that Sir? A 10-year-old girl. I wonder what you would’ve said to Tarana Burke. Or Alyssa Mirano. Or Kaya Scodelario. Or Me. Would you change what you said to me that day? To all of us? Because you made it a point not just to lecture those 5 girls that entrusted to you their story, but the whole class. Girls, who had already been taught to have a skewed view of sex, because of their Catholic education, were told to be more accepting of boys threatening behaviour. You gave a green light to the boys in the class, taught them that excuses could always be made. That girls had to be understanding, that men just had these urges. I can tell you now that 2 of those boys, I know to be on the Sex Offenders Register. What would you tell them? Or the judges that sentenced them? In a world of #MeToo, where women are telling their stories, empowering one another, where you are now 10 years older than the mere 37 that you were, has your opinion changed? Or are you just too afraid to voice it? Would you tell me something different? I pray, for the sake of not only you, but your son, and his, and all the women you come in contact with, that you now see the error of your ways. But I’m not dim, Mr D. Even you could see that in my P.6 work. I don’t expect your misogyny to be cured by one letter, or one story, or one assault. But trust me there are many more. I want you to know that they are happening. And there is always something you could do to stop it. So, consider this your report card, Mr D. And let’s just say, I wouldn’t be hanging this one on the fridge.
Is there a key moment of your life you would like to share?
This is a letter that I wrote many years after the incidents I speak about occurred, it was a form of healing for me, of me finally accepting I was not to blame for any of the things that had happened. I wrote about it in this way because it allowed me to escape from it as a reality, and to make it more relatable for some people who may have been through similar things.
How do you reflect on the journey that brought you here?
I like to think I am better because of it, I stand up for myself and other women, but at the same time I am angry that I have to.
What would you say to the 10-year-old you?
I would tell her there is so much more to come, and that she'll need to have so much self-belief to get there. That things will get hard, and lonely, but she always has herself and her mind, her creativity and writing, will always be an escape.
How would you describe yourself?
KO is a student writer. She enjoys reading, writing and creating worlds that allow you to escape this one for a short while. She is very family orientated and enjoys spending time with her family and dog, more so the latter. She grew up in a small town and enjoys writing stories that celebrate this.