A Must-See Documentary about CSA at an Elite Prep School

MandateNow, a UK pressure group seeking introduction of a law requiring staff in positions of trust who work in “Regulated Activities” (which, it seems, are activities involving the welfare of minors, though I haven’t seen the statutory or regulatory definition) to report concerns about the welfare of children (such as concerns about possible child sexual abuse), as well as vulnerable adults, to local UK authorities, recommended, via their Twitter channel, that I watch “Chosen,” a multiple award-winning documentary featuring the testimonials of three survivors of child sexual abuse regarding their abuse by the former headmaster/ head teacher and other former teachers at Caldicott School, one of the UK’s most prestigious prep schools.

Having now watched “Chosen,” I highly recommend it, to the point of saying it’s a “must-see” documentary on CSA. (You can watch the trailer for “Chosen” as well as, further down the screen, the entire film here, on the details page for “Chosen” on the website of True Vision, the company that produced the film.)

As a page from the film’s own website, where you can also see the film free of charge, puts it so accurately:

Standing apart from more tabloid models of talking about paedophilia, this film is sensitively told, allowing the men to talk directly about their experiences and the effect it has had on the rest of their lives.

Indeed, this documentary allows, in brilliant fashion, the survivors to speak for themselves, and nothing could be more eloquent than the survivors’ own descriptions of the horror of their abuse experiences, the skillful processes by which they were “groomed” by their abusers, the inherent credulity of parents in trusting that school authorities were seeing to their children’s welfare, the long-term effects of the abuse, as well as various other aspects of the abuse vital to its successful perpetration in the milieu in which it occurred. (The documentary also addresses what needs to be done in order to minimize the possibility of the continuing occurrence, in the present day, of such abuse in a prep school environment, and, more generally, any environment in which children are potentially at risk.)

One of those various other aspects that people who are relatively uninformed about CSA sometimes find difficult to understand is the strong tendency of children not to tell. As one of the survivors put it (about fifty minutes into the film):

The curious thing is that I don’t think I was particularly conflicted in that sense, of, sort of, ‘Should I blurt it out? Should I say something?’ There was just really no question about it … which is terrible … you know, to think that an individual would have such a hold over me that I couldn’t even talk to my parents about it.

It’s hard for us adults to realize just how complicated, how difficult these things are for a child to talk about.

As another of them put it:

Weirdly, I don’t think he ever said, ‘Don’t tell anyone.’ He just knew that I wouldn’t.

The importance of understanding this tendency cannot be overemphasized. Understanding that, even if children are not directly threatened by their abusers with retaliation should they tell, children will typically comprehend that what the abuser is doing to them is very wrong in the eyes of society and, feeling complicit in the abuse, will tend to assume that they will be in big trouble if others find out about it.

Which is one of the major reasons why the realization of what MandateNow is advocating for with respect to CSA—mandatory reporting, by adults in positions of responsibility, of known or possible child sexual abuse—is so important, whether in the UK or any other location where such reporting is not now required. Since children, through no fault of their own, will rarely, on their own initiative, come forward to report their abuse, responsible adults must take the initiative. As the third survivor interviewed in the film put it: “Evil happens when good men stay silent.” Statutory / regulatory reporting requirements and protocols are, indeed, essential for ensuring that good though imperfect people in positions of responsibility do not—whether out of a fear of losing their jobs if they rock the boat or for other reasons—remain silent in the face of known or suspected child sexual abuse.

And I found it ironic that Tom Perry, the survivor who made this “when good men stay silent” comment, made this comment in criticism of himself, out of a conviction that, had he come forward about his CSA experiences sooner, he might have been able to save other students who attended Caldicott after him from suffering sexual abuse. My personal feeling is that Mr. Perry is being much too hard on himself, and I hope that he realizes the invaluable contribution that he made, by coming forward when he did, to combating CSA, both at Caldicott and elsewhere.

For one thing, thanks, it seems, in significant part to the three survivors appearing in “Chosen” and other Caldicott CSA survivors’ efforts, protocols have, according to Caldicott School, been put in place at Caldicott itself to substantially lessen the possibility of CSA occurring at the school. Among other things, the film noted at its conclusion that:

The current headmaster [at the time of the film’s making], is now a fully trained and designated child protection officer, and all staff are aware of good child protection practice. Boys now have regular access to their parents, with boarders able to go home most Saturday nights, and all have their own email addresses. In addition, there is a black box where anonymous notes raising any concerns may be posted, which will be investigated by the deputy head.

(And I should add that Mr. Perry, as the founder of MandateNow, is continuing to make an invaluable contribution to combating CSA.)

As the film neared its conclusion, I was very sorry to learn that a 2003 prosecution of Peter Wright, the former headmaster, had not been allowed by the presiding judge to go forward, but then was relieved to learn that Wright was successfully prosecuted and convicted in 2013, for some of the child sexual abuse he had committed while at Caldicott, and was sentenced, in early 2014, to eight years in jail; and to learn that other former teachers who had committed abuse had been prosecuted and convicted as well. The production company’s page for the film states: “All the trials since 2008 have been as a result of new victims coming forward to police after seeing the film.”

(It was very sad to learn, from a February 4th, 2014 TV news program report appearing on the “Chosen” page of the True Vision site, that Mark Payge, one of the three “Chosen” survivors, passed away before the conviction and sentencing of Wright and the other former Caldicott teachers.)

Of course, the UK isn’t the only place where child sexual abuse has occurred at prep schools. Thanks to another person I’ve followed on Twitter, I learned of this documentary on sexual abuse at a prestigious prep school in South Carolina, appearing on the YouTube channel of Darkness to Light, an American nonprofit dedicated to empowering people to prevent child sexual abuse.

And revelations of sexual abuse of students at two prestigious international schools here in Tokyo have emerged within the past year. See this link and this one.

Can it be any more obvious that, absent proper protocols as well as statutory / regulatory reporting requirements, prep schools become (have long been) ideal settings for child sexual abusers to carry out their abuse?

Which is why the efforts of organizations such as MandateNow are so worthy of recognition and support. And why parents applying to prep schools for their children should, as the survivors in “Chosen” make clear, directly ask school administrators about school protocols for protection of students and make a judgement about whether the protocols are or are not adequate for the protection of their own children’s welfare.

Spare the time, if at all possible, and watch “Chosen.”

Sent from my iPhone

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