Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Abuse That Went Unnoticed: Feature

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Abuse That Went Unnoticed: Feature

Article excerpt

Dana Fowley was sexually abused from the age of 5 by a family paedophile ring. Teachers failed to spot the warning signs and she never raised the alarm. She says schools need to recognise young victims and address abuse directly. Sarah Nelson reports.

When Dana Fowley wrote How Could She?, she relinquished her anonymity to reveal herself as a childhood victim of the most horrific abuse.

The story of how she had been trapped, for 10 years, in a circle of sexual abuse by her mother and others in a family paedophile ring became a best- seller. Yet the question that went unasked in the resulting media furore was why, throughout all those desperate years, no one detected any sign of her torment or made a move to protect Dana and her sister Heather.

Dana moved primary school four times - a clue, she says, that things were not right at home and that her family had something to hide. But it appears that none of the primaries and secondaries, or the special school Heather attended, ever suspected anything was wrong.

A campaign to prevent teenage rape was launched on 5 March, just as fresh Home Office figures revealed that a third of girls aged 13 to 17 have been the victim of some form of violence from a partner. The government has also recently launched a national plan to tackle child sexual exploitation by paedophile rings and other abusers. Barnardo's, which last year launched the Cut Them Free campaign to stop child sexual exploitation, has issued guidance leaflets for teachers and other professionals. And, of course, many local authorities have protocols and services in place.

Yet the voices of the victims are rarely heard. Dana, now 31, is in a long-term relationship and has two little boys of her own. But she is still battling illness and the physical legacy of childhood brutality - and says a system that waits for children to speak up is condemned to fail most of them.

Now she has offered to go into schools to help young people lose the overwhelming shame, stigma and fear that so effectively silence them. Speaking for the first time about what she sees as an unresolved issue in the education system, she says: "I was very quiet at school. Maybe too quiet. You feel dirty, ashamed, that you must have been part of it because you allowed it happen.

"Teachers need to ask kids who are quiet if there's anything wrong. Parents who keep changing their child's school for no apparent reason should also raise concerns.

"And schools should check why some children keep asking to be excused from PE, as I did. I often had bruises, though my parents tried to keep the marks hidden."

Dana, from north Edinburgh, was raped from the age of 5 by her stepfather, from age 7 by a grandfather, then by other members of the ring. Dana's stepfather's elderly parents subjected her and Heather to hundreds of rapes and sadistic beatings, whippings, choking and throttling.

Once she was covered in bruises from beatings with a poker: she took a note to school saying she had fallen off the school roof while playing on it.

At 10, Dana was blindfolded and raped by a gang of men in a caravan. She later tried to kill herself by slashing her arms.

Extreme suffering

How could such extreme suffering pass unnoticed by adults, especially in a school setting, where children spend so much of their time?

Dana's grandparents died when she was 12, her stepfather three years later. Only then did the assaults end. Years later, in 2007, her mother Caroline Dunsmore was jailed for 12 years for her role in the paedophile ring, a judge roundly condemning her for standing by and allowing her daughters' torture. Two male abusers received long prison terms.

But in 2009, prosecutions against two further men accused of the caravan abuse collapsed when her mother withdrew her evidence. Dana, who used to go and see her mother in prison, no longer visits.

Despite the horror of her domestic life, Dana admits that at school there was little in her behaviour to hint at such dreadful abuse at home. …

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