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  • Scarlett Mansfield

Responding to Popular Comments - CRGS Case Study

Updated: Apr 14

I really did not expect that article to go as viral as it did, and honestly, I am so pleased it has because it’s unleashed something that I hope can be channelled into a true vehicle for change.


I think what’s caught people’s attention the most is that these young people leaving anonymous comments are not celebrities; they are not famous and do not have media attention to propel their voices forward. They are our children, our sisters, our brothers, our friends, and our family members.


Too often, we think of sexual assault or sexism generally as being something that only happens to celebrities of the #MeToo movement or something that goes addressed in the courtrooms. But in reality, it’s happening to people all around us, all the time, whether we’re conscious of it or not – and it's only now people are feeling emboldened to say something, now they have been given a platform to.


I’d like to use this same platform to address some of the common responses/ challenges I’ve received to both the article and the anonymous comments page:

1. The school has completely changed since you attended years ago. You’re too late.

I have existing students at the school coming to me in droves telling me that they’re so thankful I’m speaking out as it’s something they so desperately wanted to discuss but nobody was willing to have that conversation. And I fully understand their frustration. It’s so hard to make changes and even harder still when you’re at school and nobody takes you seriously as a teenager.


I remember during my time at CRGS, I did an anonymous survey of 100 sixth form students for my Extended Project Qualification. I was looking at how we could use the Human Rights Act to ban websites that promoted anorexia/ bulimia and wanted to gauge a wider understanding of the mental health situation among my peers.


I found out 23 out of the 100 had self-harmed and 16 out of the 100 answered ‘yes’ to the question ‘have you been on an extreme weight-loss regime? E.g., Severe calorie restricting, purging, using laxatives etc.’ Furthermore, I asked the question ‘Have you ever experienced suicidal thoughts? If so, did you feel there was someone you could talk to about it? If so, who?’ To which, around 23 students responded yes, with several saying they didn’t feel there was anyone they could talk to about it.


When I confronted the school with this data, I had a meeting with the Headmaster at the time and eventually, the information was quietly swept under the rug and I was encouraged not to pursue my research. I never ended up completing the EPQ, and the school never took effective measures to help these students who clearly needed it.


Today at CRGS, an awe-inspiring group of sixth formers started a Sexual Assault & Harassment Awareness Society in response to Sarah Everard’s murder. While they were allowed to start as a society, their scope was increasingly narrowed, and they were told there are so many important topics they were not allowed to talk about/ mention. Thankfully, owing to the viral nature of my article, the school have now u-turned on this and allowed them to talk openly.


Of course, this brings me to the point though that it shouldn’t be the responsibility of 16-, 17-, and 18-year-olds to fix the toxic culture that has been an epidemic at the school for decades. While I appreciate and encourage student-led discussions, the senior leadership team need to be proactive in their approach.


There are also several anonymous comments written by students at the school today that talk of the same problems I have raised in my article. This issue hasn’t suddenly stopped, regardless of any progress that has been made. And you may argue “but it’s a societal problem, it happens everywhere”, to which I’d agree. However, we are not seeing the same issues as this coming out of mixed-gender comprehensive schools.


I want to add here as well that I’ve seen the public statement that the school released and believe it to be an iconic example of performative progressiveness. By that, I mean when examining attitudes towards homosexuality, scholars noted that although positive public opinions have liberalised considerably, there is the persistence of prejudice on an interpersonal level. For example, while it’s now popular/ common to support gay marriage and gay adoption, these same people often feel uncomfortable actually witnessing two gay people kissing in front of them. And, as a Queer woman myself, I see this occur all the time.


This ties into what the school are doing – while they are saying what we want to hear, and telling us that they want to stop the problem publicly, on an interpersonal level, it’s continuing to be a prevalent issue among students that teachers are doing little about in reality.


2. What about men being raped by women?

Let me make this clear – I am against sexual violence in all of its forms, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator. Yes, people without penises can commit acts of sexual violence against other genders – whether that’s against men or non-binary individuals but the legal situation here differs.


The law exclusively defines rape to be an act of penetration by a penis in a vagina, anus or mouth. For this reason, a cisgender woman cannot legally rape a man. There is, however, ‘sexual assault by penetration’ which is defined as the intentional penetration of a vagina or anus with a part of their body or anything else – for example, a finger or a sex toy. Finally, ‘sexual assault’, legally, is when a person intentionally touches another in a sexual way that is not consensual.


Now, whether the law is right to make these distinctions or not is another question entirely. However, the reason I am primarily focusing on violence carried out by men is owing to the statistics on the subject. Data shows that men are at most risk of being sexually assaulted by other men than they are of being assaulted by women, even when the perpetrator and victim are heterosexual. This is because sexual assault is about power, control, and a sense of sexual entitlement rather than simply about sexual desire.


To read more about this (including where I found these stats) and learn how the school could actively address the problem this Give n’ Get Consent: A Resource For Teaching Sexual Consent to Key Stages 3 & 4is a fantastic document produced by Rape Crisis South London. Additionally, if you are a parent wondering how to broach the subject of consent and assault with your children, it’s also a great place to start to work out how!


3. I had a great experience at the school. Things were never as bad as you’re making out. Yes, some smaller incidents may have happened to some but don’t tarnish all with the same brush, #NotAllMen


I am really pleased to hear that and you’re a very fortunate person. But these sorts of phrases and comments clearly aim to deflect from conversations about uncomfortable topics. Instead, it’s best to listen to those around you, reflect on their experiences, and acknowledge that just because it hasn’t happened to you, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.


Further, as I highlighted in my first post, “is silence not an act of violence too?” So many in my year group stood by and said nothing. I too am guilty of that – there were times I wanted to stand up and say something but I didn’t because I was afraid people wouldn’t like me so I let it continue. I am not innocent either.


4. Well, if things were that bad, why didn’t someone say something?

There are several reasons why people don’t speak out on issues like this. In fact, it’s something as a year group we once had a discussion about on the same Facebook group I mentioned in my first article.


It all kicked off when one boy wrote that the school were considering getting a counsellor for one morning a week and wanted to know our views on the matter. One girl, pinpointing the crux of the matter, wrote: “I think the only thing the school can do to help is to educate certain teachers that mental illnesses actually exist and sometimes people need a break. Other than that, nothing in school stays anonymous and the truth is no one will seek help if everyone finds out about it. Also, if people really wanted help, they would look in places other than a work-obsessed school that hardly understands…. Nor do I think a counsellor will help anyone for the half an hour once a week he gets to see all of year 13”.


Other members of the year responded: “All of this is kind of irrelevant because we’ve only got 3 months left. Just get on with it and stop moaning… I suggest a small glass of whiskey and line of your preferred illegal substance before bedtime will leave you feeling so much better, that’s all the counsellors will say anyway.” Another replied: “We need a counsellor?! Do we really lack that much perspective? There’s so much shit going on in the world, deal with it, life’s tough but comparatively, we all have it easy”.


To which a student said: “That’d be a great point if we hadn’t had a boy commit suicide and a girl die from anorexia in the last two years… actually, it’d still be a pretty stupid point”.


Overall, there was a general lack of action on matters that made it hard to seek help on the issues we faced. My parents were hauled into school to talk to the Head of Sixth Form at the time about the inappropriate length of my skirt and yet nobody spoke to our parents or even asked if we were all okay when I uncovered the aforementioned huge wave of self-harm, disordered eating, and suicidal students. The school made its priorities clear to me, and I felt its image at the time mattered more than the welfare of its students so, at least in a personal capacity, I never felt I could broach the school about more serious subjects.


I have also heard some very serious allegations and concerns levelled at the current administration so I don't want to make out like this is just some historic problem. However, I can't speak to those issues personally and I'd then be wading into potential legal issues but just know this problem persists, and it's well noted in the 200+ anonymous comments CRGS students have left on my other blog. Please read them. It's harrowing and shows the scale of the issue!


Final notes

I would just like to say a huge thank-you to everyone that has reached out to me – whether to share your stories, offer support, or just to thank me for finally saying what so many of us have been thinking about for years. I really appreciate it. I’m so sorry I can’t give you all the responses that you deserve but know that I appreciate you thinking of me and in due course, hope to get back to some more of you.


Thanks,

Scarlett Mansfield Freelance.



ACTIONS: How can you help?

  1. If you attended CRGS or CCHSG, please leave an anonymous comment if you experienced any sexism/ misogyny/ rape culture/ actual assault while attending the school. Help show the scale of the problem that needs to be addressed: https://forms.gle/EbMGiG17GNy59H39A

  2. Read & share these harrowing anonymous comments to spread word of the problem! https://crgs-comments.blogspot.com/p/crgs-anonymous-comments.html

  3. Please subscribe with your e-mail to receive future updates about any action the school has taken - this will help to increase pressure on the school to create lasting change if they know people (former students, parents, prospective parents, etc) are aware of their inaction/ action: https://forms.gle/AJD8oghusRJWfP5c9/

  4. Share this article far and wide, tell your friends who work in the media, post it on Twitter, share it on Facebook etc. All support helps!

  5. Send an e-mail to Headmaster Mr J Russell at JRussell@crgs.co.uk & Dirk Reid, President of the Old Colchestrians president@ocs.org.uk to let them know we need more than words on the topic. We need concrete action.

  6. As a school that's very rating-focused, consider e-mailing enquiries@ofsted.gov.uk to ask them to inspect CRGS as part of their new emergency review to inspect how schools deal with sexual abuse claims.



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