Monday, 1 January 2018

A survivor of Soper's abuse speaks out

"Peter" (not his real name) is one of the complainants in the trial of Fr Laurence Soper. He has spoken out about Soper and St Benedict's in an interview published on the the Guardian website today: London Catholic school abuse survivor speaks of 'constant violence'

You can of course read the full article if you follow the link above, but it's worth quoting a few of Peter's words here.
  • "There wouldn’t be a day when there wasn’t a queue of boys outside [Soper’s] study to be caned"
  • "[The abuse] was accepted, it was the norm, it was routine. Everybody had been into Father Laurence’s study. I realised it had happened to lots of boys before me and would happen to lots of boys after me.”
  • “Mine was the last generation where [abuse of children] was acceptable. Because of the culture at the time, it was excused. Now the whole system is changing. There’ll always be those who slip through the net, but it needs to be a bloody good net.”
Some comments to previous articles here have suggested that this sort of violence was common to most private schools in those days. Peter started at St Benedict's age 11 in 1979. He is therefore a few years younger than me, I took my A levels in 1979.

I didn't attend St Benedict's, I was educated elsewhere. But I can say that at the two private secondary schools I attended, there was not the culture of violence that Peter and others have described. Yes, the cane was used (very) occasionally, and yes there was something of a bullying problem, but I do not remember anything like the culture of violence that has been recounted at St Benedict's. St Benedict's might not have been unique (the IICSA heard similar accounts about Ampleforth and Downside during its recent hearings), but that level of violence certainly wasn't typical.

The violence and the fear it kindled among the pupils facilitated the abuse, as pupils were too terrified to complain.

41 comments:

  1. When is the government going to deal with Ealing Abbey, Downside and the others? Clearly the Roman Church is singularly incapable and unwilling to to respond radically to serious crimes commiited at these venues.

    I thought state intervention into the monasteries ended in the 16C; Undoubtedly we need a state 21stC Dissolution of the Monasteries.

    When are we going to see action from the government here?

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  2. Jonathan, pupils weren't necessarily too terrified to complain. The sad thing is that the violence was normalised. I and many others who were regularly at the receiving end simply accepted it because it was part of the institutional framework - part of the way things were done.

    My impression was that mostly the individuals who administered brutal physical punishments for trivial offences also regarded it as normal. At the time corporal punishment was legal and often "politically correct". I wonder if this ethos of notionally well-intentioned cruelty was ever challenged by any of those involved with the school's governance. Perhaps if it had been, closer attention might have been paid to the potential for abuse.

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  3. Just to set the record straight.
    Soper said he would have me killed if I spoke or ever came up on his radar along with anyone I love.
    So stop with the" my parents were too Christian" bs
    So talk you die, get anywhere in life you die.

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  4. Henry VIII destroyed more good than bad in the 16thC and talk of a new Dissolution of the Monasteries is doing just the same - dismissing the huge amount of good that the monasteries have done in schools and parishes since the reformation and especially the last 200 years after they were re-established in England.

    I had a very happy and fulfilled 9 years of Benedictine education and you will find that 99% of the 7000+ living old boys of Downside will say the same.

    I absolutely agree that there has been some terrible stuff going on for which the abusers must be brought to justice but at no point in the inquiry did anyone say that the majority of monks are good honest men and it shouldn't be the aim to remove the EBC from existence.

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    1. The Catholic abuse scandal has never been about the fact that some monks and priests have abused. That can't altogether be prevented in any occupation involving the care of children.

      The Catholic abuse scandal has (as far as I'm concerned at least) always been about the cover-up, that non-abusing monks and bishops put the welfare of abusers among the clergy above that of their victims.

      And it seems to me that just about everyone in a senior position within the Catholic church have been to some degree complicit in that cover-up. Certainly all the Benedictine abbots appear to have been, even when they weren't (like Soper) abusers themselves.

      That cover-up enabled abusers to carry on abusing. The way the church addressed this could hardly have been better designed to achieve the maximum amount of harm to the largest possible number of children had it been designed with that express aim in mind.

      Even if we were to accept the 99% figure you offer, does that excuse the harm done to the rest, harm which was known to be occurring?

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    2. I'm not excusing the harm done and I accept that there has been a cover-up and those involved need to be brought to book (whatever that entails) but that doesn't equate to the abolition of the EBC and throwing every single monk out on the streets, as the first comment in this thread is seeking. I have known , and still know , so many good and honest monks who are working tirelessly for the greater good. Yes, strict checks and controls need to be put in place under the control of independent bodies but if you are looking for abolition of the EBC then I must take the opposing view.

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    3. The presence of abusers among the monks was known to all or nearly all of the monks. The principle of Christian forgiveness was twisted to justify keeping this secret. This policy of secrecy was handed down from one Abbot to the next - not one of them thought it a bad idea. The monks you know may have been in other ways working tirelessly for the greater good, but they have all been complicit to some degree in this cover up which I have to regard as a deeply evil matter.

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  5. Jonathan, thank you for keeping up the flow of information and criticism.

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  6. On the 'culture of violence' bit of your post and "the IICSA heard similar accounts about Ampleforth and Downside during its recent hearings" I can say that, as far back as the late 60s at Downside, the cane was used very occasionally (as in your experience) and only by the Headmaster -
    Aelred Watkin , who comes out blameless as being the one who dealt with Michael/Anselm Hurt correctly from the start. Punishments were either lines on blue paper or an early morning run to the Pavilion and back (called Quads because it started as 5 times around the quad before start of classes at 9am). Certainly not a culture of violence with queues of boys waiting to be caned.

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    1. I'm sure we have all seen the film " the Hill" about a British wartime penal facility.
      Just in case you haven't Mr Agius it's where men are forced to run up and down a hill until they are either broken or dead.
      Sounds great for the kids in your book ( no room for sadistic abuse there) . How you can say you know how much caning was going on ? That's like the police saying there is no longer any crime in Britain because one of them went for a walk around Bethesda, and didn't see any wrongdoing.

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    2. Mid-1970s. St Benedicts Junior School. I would have been about 9.

      That's when I FIRST witnessed another pupil being beaten with a bat in front of the entire class by a teacher.

      Leaving aside the astonishing fact that this was legal behaviour at that time, can you begin to imagine the effect of that? Public beatings of fellow 9 year old children??? (And, for the record, the teacher concerned was not one of the paedophiles...) I lived daily with that violence, threatened on us all, from about the age of 7. Until I 'escaped' at 16.

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    3. So much talk on here about caning. That's not the point. As you said, Sean, caning was legal behaviour at the time, and Soper wasn't charged with caning for that very reason. He was charged with sex abuse. I do worry that the two matters have been hugely conflated, and because he caned he has been sentenced to 18 years for sex abuse. That would be plain wrong.

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    4. It was Soper who conflated the two, using caning for sexual gratification. Why the hell are you sorry for him?!

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    5. Did he though?
      That's the point, I suppose.

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  7. Peter Agius, your comments highlight to me yet again the moral void at the heart of the Catholic Church. You have come on here and presumably read all about the Soper case, and the other Ealing cases, and the cases at Downside, etc etc ad nauseam. . .and your concern is that good monks are being vilified! Jonathan's point is irrefutable: the majority of these men knew exactly what was going on, and they kept silent. And yet you STILL rush to their defence. There IS no defence. If you had any shame, you wouldn't sleep at night; shame is clearly alien to you and to so many others.

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    1. His concern is that he'll be out of a job.

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    2. I think it's deeper than that. he has sunk a large amount of loyalty, time and probably money into this vile organisation over a long period of time and it is never easy, when you have done that, to see the truth and to admit that you were conned just as many other people have been. When Peter Agius was being pious and devout, the men he held in high esteem were raping children and/or aware of their colleagues raping children. That's the ugly truth and on one level I can see why some people refuse to face it. They are cowardly, nonetheless.

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    3. 22:56 on 10.01.18 puts his finger exactly on it, I think. I notice that in a previous comment Mr Agius hopes the new abbot president will rid the EBC of the few bad apples. I am incredulous that anyone can still be sufficiently in denial to use the few bad apples image. He also doesnt understand the role of the abbot president.
      Fortunately the EBC itself has made sure it's on the way out, without any need for external action.
      Put it this way. If a young man thinks he has a vocation to a religious life of an EBC flavour and is also a bit canny about the reputation and history of the place he goes to, he's now a bit stuck. Without naming names, once he's ruled out the monasteries who've had abbots subsequently imprisoned, the ones run by a few old men, and in fact anywhere that's had an avoidable scandal he's a bit stuck. Douai and Belmont don't have schools. Every one of the monasteries is declining. Any intelligent aspirant to religious life will avoid communities who can't get or keep applicants. I think my hypothetical young man would be limited to St Louis Abbey at this point.
      There is an associated danger that communities at risk of extinction then take on dodgy applicants to bump the numbers up, who then prove to be the rotten apples Mr Agius refers to.
      Incidentally his website about Worth is fascinating.

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    4. The "few bad apple" theory looks tenuous given that *many* of the staff at St Benedict's seemed to have turned a blind eye to Soper's having kept a cat of nine tails on his desk (as reported eg https://www.standard.co.uk/news/crime/sadistic-priest-guilty-of-abusing-boys-at-15kayear-ealing-school-a3712496.html). My understanding is that use of such an implement would have been illegal in a school even at the time when caning was allowed, yet none of the other staff (many of whom must surely have been in his room or at least have heard about this) seem to have done anything to get him to remove this? And what was the point of Soper having that there, if not to frighten children into thinking that if they didn't comply with his demands, they might have faced punishment with? This looks to me like mental cruelty/sadism. So yes, only a few at St Benedict's abused children themselves, but in my view all who knew about the "cat of nine tails" seem to be guilty of not intervening.

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  8. Caning is according to some theories conflated with sexual gratification. Soper wasn't the only one - others not convicted.

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  9. In this Unesco publication,
    http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0013/001392/139209e.pdf
    Committee on the rights of the child finds corporal punishment is linked with other forms of violence against children, including explicitly sexual harassment (p. 29) are interlinked.
    This tallies with the 'caning for thrills' type part of the case made against Soper, and the caning is one part of those thrills. There are a lot of other daily caners at St B.s in the 70s for example whose practices now need scrutiny.

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  10. Soper got two 12 year sentences to run concurrent and then various other sentences from indecent assault to sexual abuse. I feel sure it's not the last we have heard of him or the abuse that ran through the school. Yes he caned but what he was charged with is what he did when he caned. And what thoughts were going through his mind when he not only caned me but bent me over the desk and raped me. Yes I was a victim of the recent trial so if you are all so interested and prepared to argue points I suggest you get a transcript of the sentencing which is available and find out exactly what this sick and selfish man actually did. Not once has he shown remorse but at least us ten victims won our case!!

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    1. Dear Victim,

      I am pleased you and the other nine victims, got justice. I cant imagine the pain and suffering, you guys had to endure and my deepest sympathies go out to you all!

      Are the sentencing remarks available to access?

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    2. We don't need to explain ourselves. We fought and won.
      However certain of them don't understand that when you lose a fight, you stay down. Or you get more of the same.
      St Benedict's pretend to apologise to us but send us no letters, just this joke of a troll. Don't worry about him I'm sure our guardian angels from operation winter key still have our best interests very close to their hearts.

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  11. Dear Jonathan

    As I'm the recipient of a few adverse comments on this thread I need to give a few answers, in honest and open discussion. (And in no way trying to 'troll' the thread as one of your correspondents said. But he may have been referring to the anonymous 'caning' comment? ). I hope you can at least give me credit for not hiding behind 'anonymous' and putting my name out there.(Not sure how many different people your anonymous correspondents are?) A google search will soon discover my Benedictine connections, Worth Prep and Downside, and monks in 4 generations going back 150 years. So,yes, I do have a loose 'investment' in the EBC but never been employed by them. (Ref 'His concern is that he'll be out of a job.' 10th Jan). And I'm far from 'pious and devout' but confess that I am a practising RC and feel very sad and ashamed that the abuse has taken place over a very long period and that those in authority have not dealt with it quickly and correctly as soon as they knew of it.

    I am absolutely with you on your professed aims of "to try and ensure that the child protection policies of the Abbey and school are brought up to the highest possible standard, and to provide support to any victims of abuse at St. Benedict's or elsewhere. " .. and that to encompass all religious foundations, including Downside. So , yes, I acknowledge that serious abuse has occured, and the abusers must be brought to justice. Further to that, Cardinal Hume (in absentia) and a succession of Abbots of Downside need to be called to account for the cover-up, acknowledge and apologise for their part in the cover-up and controls and guidelines be put in place. And finally the monasteries need to be removed from any governance in their schools (which Downside is now working on following lay Headmaster Whitehead's departure). Despite one of the comments above ('He also doesn't understand the role of the abbot president.") I do believe that Jamison will ensure controls are adhered to.

    So I'm with you on all that ..but where I beg to differ is the tarring of every monk, living and dead, with the same brush, and calls for the abolition of the EBC.

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    1. I think there are few monks who were unaware that criminals were being harboured at the monasteries. The IICSA evidence with regard to Ampleforth was that the older monks were strongly against making efforts to protect children. This is not a matter of a few senior people keeping secrets from the rest of the monks, it is all the monks effectively engaging in a conspiracy to protect criminals.

      That to my mind calls severely into question the fitness of the monks to remain monks. It is so far removed from anything that we might regard as Christian compassion and morality that one has to question whether they should even be regarded as Christians.

      As for Jamison, you have to realise two things. First, as Yeo described in evidence to IICSA, his role as Abbot President is one of authority with no power attached. He can't get anything done against the will of the individual Abbots. Second, you have to question whether he even wants to get anything done, since he was as much in on the secret as any other monk. We have yet to hear at IICSA how bad abuse was at Worth.

      So I can see the point of view of those who think that the EBC is so corrupt that disbanding it is a justified solution. I don't necessarily share that view, but I can see why those who hold that view do so.

      It was interesting that the safeguarding professionals called in by the church and who gave evidence last month (Jane Dziadulewicz, Eileen Shearer and Adrian Child) expressed the same opinion in their closing remarks. They all said words to the effect that as far as safeguarding is concerned, the Roman Catholic Church has shown itself to be unreformable from within and therefore will have to be subject to compulsion from without.

      If you think about it form a moment, this is an incredible condemnation of the church. First, we have the church claiming to be a moral exemplar to the world being told it is incapable of organising itself to protect the children in its care. Second, this conclusion is coming from people well-disposed towards the church, Catholics themselves, who have attempted this reform and found it impossible.

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    2. Jonathan, thank you for expressing so clearly what so many of us think, and Mr Agius thank you for replying. I made the comment about the abbot president. There is just one thing else I would say (not aimed at anyone).
      I've been a Benedictine novice myself. I could tell you gossip about monks of EBC houses which would make your hair stand on end. Monasteries are very gossipy places and it is inconceivable that the monks don't know a good deal of dirt on each other. Not only will gossip pass from monastery to monastery, the matter of living together means the monks know each other very well indeed.

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  12. I am anonymous 14 Jan, who made the caning comment. If victim 16 Jan 18.54 thinks he is being trolled by this (his target is not clear) he is mistaken. I have every sympathy for his sufferings, but am making a broader comment, which did not seem to mean anything to him. I find allegations of trolls, if targeted at anyone on this page, or myself, misplaced. The association of caning intrinsically with sexual abuse is a widely aired issue, and, yes, it is one aspect (only one as I mentioned) of the Soper trial.

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  13. Thanks to all those willing to engage in this discussion (without being abusive). For the benefit of others reading this thread and to add to something I put in an email to Jonathan yesterday talking about safeguarding in the wider church... while I may be a practising RC it's more for the theology than the hierarchy and I'm certainly not in awe of Bishops and the like and would like to see all Bishops be legally obliged to make sure all their parishes follow strict safeguarding rules. My Diocese of Portsmouth is very good on this and anyone who has any dealings with children and the (equally vulnerable) elderly has to be DBS checked and attend safeguarding training. But I'm aware that some Bishops aren't so bothered and I have no problem with making them 'subject to compulsion from without'. So, yes, Jonathan, I'm with you on your last paragraph that us grass-roots RCs do need some help to get good safeguarding practices adopted nationwide (and even worldwide) in all denominations and religious organisations.

    It's going to be interesting to see how the next step in the IICSA goes, which I believe is a closer look at Westminster/politicians. Then we might see the full power of the establishment in trying to cover things up. (Interesting piece in the Sunday Times today).

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    1. I have news for you about one member of your Diocese of Portsmouth's safeguarding commission. You can read the experiences of his noviciate companion here: http://anotherabbotextraordinary.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/another-abbot-extraordinary.html

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  14. I noted in the Business section of the "Daily Telegraph" recently, a short article about church supply and service businesses. The telling point was, that such firms probably have another twenty years before their markets vanish, because main-stream Christianity in this country will cease to exist as an economic force. This chimes with opinions that I know are expressed among EBC monks, that their congregation has about this length of time left to its history.
    Meanwhile, expect all EBC schools to be separated from their monasteries, and to become more or less non-religious within this period -if they survive, which they well might. It's already obvious that a sufficient number of parents of boys at them are not put off by abuse scandals. Remember Douai School? The abbey closed it in 1998 after it became insolvent and after serious abuse scandals. However, a large group of parents refused to accept the decision and put in a large sum of money as well as their own management -only to have to whole project collapse within a year. Even so, I remember a Douai Old Boy barrister and parent called Mark Hoyle giving a public rant in 2001, as to why the school should never have closed.
    IMHO, IICSA will make little difference to the above scenarios.

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  15. Anyone else having trouble finding a law firm to take them on .
    Looks like I won't get a penny from anywhere.
    What I'm really saying is it should be illegal for any institution to insure against paedophilia, especially when they already know it's coming. That is collusion!

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    1. It's a bit of a specialist field. Your average solicitor who deals with wills and conveyancing won't have the faintest idea how to approach such a case.

      I suggest you look up the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers (ACAL) and pick someone from there.

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  16. I already did

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  17. I've just watched If.... again. One difference at St Benedict's was that prefects did not have caning rights, merely sending up rights. This applied even in the L4th (i.e. age 12-13). One of them sent me up for starting a slow handclap at some badly organised event. This guy - name forgotten, but Irish if memory serves - achieved such a reputation for sending up that Osmecki made a joke about it in class: something along the lines of "He's sending up even more than I do". Given Horsey's gratification at caning, there was no moderation applied. I'm curious to know how this little charmer would respond to a child of his own facing such a regime. I never told my parents about the plethora of malicious canings I received - in particular from Flood - for fear that they would assume justification and impose additional (non-physical) punishment at home. When I discussed this with them towards the end of their lives, they recognised that such a fear was probably justified.

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  18. After reading the comment of "Victim 16 January" above I now consider myself very lucky indeed. My experience with Soper was that he would offer me the option of 6 strokes of the cane standing up with my trousers on, or 3 over his knee with his hand, trousers and pants down. This was most often for something as trivial as getting a couple of sentences wrong in a Latin homework. Like another poster above I never told my parents because I felt they would have sided with the school and considered that I must have deserved it. This was in 1975/76 when he was U4 division master. I'm very pleased to see that Soper and the others have finally got what they deserve. I was aware of Pearce's misdemeanours at the time but fortunately he wasn't interested in me. The number of actual victims must be hundreds of times the number that are known about, it's unbelievable that they got away with it for so long.

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    1. Wow! I had not appreciated that the 'half-price alternative' was hand on naked buttocks. I had assumed it matched what I once got (without option) in the 3rd form from Horsey - cane against underpants. Whilst, like most of my class, I was sexually naive at that age, I can't help thinking that in U4 I'd have smelt a rat at that choice and informed my parents. My guess is that they'd have taken this up with the school, although I imagine the school would have denied it and my reputation would have sunk even further. Flood terrorised me in U4, but his egregiously excessive caning was always with trousers up.

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  19. Prison is a community. Just the same as law is a community. The difference is the law can't do what they feel like. Every prison is a city and street rules reign supreme in the most forbidden of places.

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  20. The blame attaches not just to the monastery for what happened, but also to the entire school - and to the teaching culture at the time. In the late 70s, when I was at St B's, the teachers were always right, the pupils were expected to obey blindly - which has educational benefits in putting responsibility for achievement onto children but unfortunately allows, even encourages corruption among the teachers, many of whom had sexually motivated tendencies of the kind manifested. This is actually a living manifestation of the Stanford prison experiment's findings - a demonstration (although now unresolvably disputed) that power corrupts. I think the culpability of individuals - which I am not disputing - needs to be seen in this broader context. That is why safeguarding measures are perhaps the only solution. My comment expresses my concern about the corruptibility tendency of human nature when given power. The same findings of the Stanford experiment are found in history (Hitler, Stalin) and the practices of individuals cannot be wholly extricated form them. May individual victims please note that this is an attempt to understand, not to exonerate.

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  21. The just-published report on abuse at Ampleforth and Downside contains "A public hearing on a third EBC abbey and school (Ealing and St Benedict’s) will be held in early 2019, following which a further report will be published which will include recommendations arising from the overall case study." Does anyone have any further information on this?

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  22. Is there a support group for the victims of Douai School ? My oldest friends husband has just began to talk about his time at the school. Thankfully he made the first steps today to seeking help but if there are support networks that could help that would be amazing thank you for taking the time to read this

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