Sunday, July 12, 2009

Too late for my son, a victim of abuse at Parktown

The Star,March 10, 2009 Edition 1

The articles in the press regarding the disgusting behaviour at Parktown Boys' High School give me the opportunity to share my family's experience.

Both my sons attended that same school during the '90s.

My elder son was small in stature, which is never an advantage in an all-male institution! He was, however, a normal happy child until the age of 11 when he became a target of bullies at school. He hated going to school and became fearful, unhappy and depressed. Thank goodness he was not a boarder.

I taught my children to be kind towards others.

In hindsight this was a very big mistake as kindness is not a valued attribute in these schools. It is all about the individual being a winner. In fact, kindness is seen as a weakness. Ironic, that many of these schools advertise Christian values.

I would frequently find my son weeping in his room and on questioning him he would tell me some boys were horrible to him. I asked him many times what they actually did to him, but he was always cagey about it. On a few occasions I was shown damage from "wedgies" an act of ripping up the underpants, which causes bruising and splitting of the peri-anal area. He was frequently humiliated and told he was "a loser".

When I threatened to go to the school, his words were: "Mum, if you intervene, life will be far worse for me!" I fear that a lot was hidden from me.

I discussed this problem with my husband, who said: "Oh, you are just an over-protective mother! You didn't have brothers - this is normal behaviour in a boy's school." My husband was also a product of an elite boys' school.

After months of unhappiness, I went to speak to the guidance master. I confided in him and he reassured me that bullying is normal, but if it gets out of hand and becomes a problem, he will look into it.

I told him I was worried about my son's obvious unhappiness and self-esteem because another past pupil had committed suicide. This boy had also been severely bullied.

After what appeared to be a short reprieve, the bullying started again. I complained to the headmaster, but his words were: "Mothers tend to be over- protective - you must understand this is a right of passage for young men - don't worry about it!"

Eventually I removed my son from the school and sent him to a co-ed college, where he was so much happier.

There is a sick code of silence about bullying - the victim feels under threat, and to protect themselves from more abuse must keep silent about what is happening.

The depression seemed to come and go, but in his matric year I sent him to a psychiatrist who put him onto an anti-depressant.

My younger son was also subjected to bullying at the same school. A large boy would grab him from behind and squeeze his chest until he passed out. When I discovered this, I demanded to see the guidance master.

The perpetrator was called in and my second son was never targeted again.

A year after my elder son completed his schooling my husband and I separated. One day I was alone at home on a public holiday and five burglars broke in and held me up with a gun. I was blindfolded and tied up, and they then ransacked the house.

My elder son returned home with two friends and they were also blindfolded, tied up and thrown into a cupboard. This incident seemed to trigger memories of the helplessness he felt at school. There were angry outbursts and he battled with depression for the next six months when he finally committed suicide.

His psychologist said he had never recovered from the bullying and helplessness that he had experienced at school.

When I discussed the bullying with my son's close friend from Parktown, his words were: "Oh, we were all bullied there!" Obviously most boys survive depending on their emotional and psychological make-up and the degree of abuse.

Sadly, many of these bullies grow up into men who have a polished veneer of good manners, but often privately become bullies and misogynists.

Mostly they would never physically abuse their wives as that would be too obvious. But emotional abuse can be kept hidden. Abuse is in order as long as it is a well kept secret.

My family and I have been to hell and back in the last nine years since my son's death. I feel I failed him as a mother because I trusted those in power at the school and I was unable to protect my child from this abuse.

I just have to say that any mother reading this should trust her instinct and speak out against abuse - WELL DONE MRS KIMBER!!!! These atrocities must be exposed.

I know a woman whose son has been admitted to a clinic for severe depression. It transpired he was severely abused sexually by some pupils at a very good northern suburbs co-ed school in the '90s.

A society against abuse at schools should be set up and pupils expelled or, if old enough, jailed for assault.

My life is forever changed and I will live with the regret that I did not remove my son immediately from this school when I discovered he was being bullied and that the headmaster perceived this as normal.

Barbara Lynn Hugo

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