A Father’s Story
Publish Date: 31/08/2011
Dominic Crouch, 15, took his own life the day after IDAHO last year, after rumours at school that he was gay. LGF online spoke to his dad Roger about Dom and the affect homophobia has had on the Crouch's lives.
On Friday May 16th last year, fifteen year old Dominic Crouch left his home in Gretton, Gloucestershire for a weekend away with everyone in his year group studying GCSE art.
Dominic returned home buzzing from the weekend. One of his friends had had an epileptic seizure while they were away and Dominic had run a mile across country to get help.
On the Tuesday morning Dominic left for school as usual, perfectly normal, perfectly happy.
At 3 o'clock in the afternoon his parents Roger and Paola received a phone call from Accident & Emergency saying Dominic was very, very poorly.
Dominic had jumped off the roof of a six-storey building not far from his school, leaving a scribbled note saying "People are making up shit about me that ain't true".
For months after Dominic's death his family were not only shattered by their loss, but found themselves searching for answers as to why Dominic would take such drastic action and what the note he left behind really meant.
It was six months after Dominic's death that his family found out about the events that triggered Dominic taking his own life.
Over the course of the trip away with the art students, the kids had been messing around, they played spin the bottle and Dominic was dared to kiss another boy and he did.
It was captured on mobile phone cameras and the image and messages about it were circulated when Dominic got back to school on the Tuesday.
A trivial incident with unbelievably tragic consequences.
Here, LGF Online talk to Dominic's dad Roger about what Dominic was like, the impact that homophobic bullying has had on the Crouch's lives and why schools need to do more challenge all forms of bullying, but especially bullying that is motivated by difference or perceived difference.
What was Dominic like?
He was pretty much a typical 15 year old lad. He was really into Rugby Union, he played for school and he played for a club as well.
He was into all the other stuff that kids his age are into, he liked play station and computer games. He was addicted to The Simpson's and Futurama. He was generally a very care free and happy boy when the bullying took place.
Do you think Dominic had been being bullied for a period time, or do you think what happened was triggered by what happened on the weekend away?
I think it was probably immediately after this residential trip. I think Dominic might have had a bit of bullying and a bit of taunting in the past, mostly I think about his special educational needs, because Dominic had a specific learning difficulty he had a type of dyslexia and he always found school work quite difficult and I suspect there might have been some sort of mickey taking about that.
I mean what Dominic said in his note was that "People are making up shit about me that ain't true" they were obviously sending the image around and sending messages with it. I think it was that that triggered it all.
What would you say to other young people who are perhaps experiencing some of the things that Dominic went through; either that they are being bullied because they are lesbian, gay or bisexual, or because they are perceived to be?
What I'd say to young people is really what I've been saying since Dominic's funeral, you should talk to someone about it; an adult, a friend, you should raise it in the school and report it. I think young boys imparticular are often very reluctant to report bullying - I think they feel it - it kind of reflects badly on themselves that they've been bullied.
But actually you should always report bullying or people spreading rumours about you, and most school policies recognise that spreading rumours maliciously is a form of bullying. I think that most bullying these days takes that form - it's not about thumping people or nicking their stuff - it's actually spreading rumours, taunting people and taking the mickey. So I'd say report it.
And what would you say to the bullies?
Think about the consequences because what might seem like a joke or a bit of a laugh could have consequences that you never imagined.
I don't think that the youngsters who sent those messages and images around on their mobile phones imagined for one minute that Dominic would have walked out of school, gone missing for two hours and then run off a six-storey building. And I think if they'd seen him after he'd done that, they wouldn't have done it.
Have lots of Dominic's friends and people from schools spoken about the impact it's had on them?
There was a huge outpouring around the time Dominic died.
A lot of his friends from school set up a facebook tribute page which has got hundreds of members and people posted very sympathetic things on that.
People have been very supportive of some of the fundraising work for charity we have been doing in Dominic's memory. We organised a memorial rugby match between the two clubs he used to play for and that was a huge success.
A lot of people think that homophobia is something that only happens to gay people, but how has it impacted on you and on your family?
If Dominic hadn't been the subject of rumours that he was gay, it's highly unlikely that he would have taken his own life.
He came home from the residential trip perfectly happy. I'd say more than usually happy. Infact he was so happy we thought that he'd hit it off with a girl. I think something just punctured his balloon, his bubble that day. I think it was the catalyst that led to his death.
We didn't know for a long time what the rumours were that Dominic spoke about in the notes that he left. Although, I suspected from quite an early stage that it was some kind of homophobic bullying, simply because in my experience that's the most common form of bullying in schools these days.
Since it became public there's been a second impact, because whilst we've had a huge amount of very supportive comments from people from all communities, particularly from the LGBT community, there's also been some really nasty homophobic stuff posted on websites and news threads, which has just been incredibly upsetting really. It's pretty heart rendering nearly a year on to see bigots gloating over the death of a 15 year old boy.
Just how important do you think it is that there are anti-homophobia and anti-bullying projects going into schools, like the LGF's Enough is Enough! Safer Schools Packs, Exceeding Expectations and other such initiatives, and how important do you think it is that talking about LGB&T issues is embedded into the school's curriculum and the school's way of life?
I think it's absolutely vital because I think most bullying these days, and I speak from my experiences as a former Director of Children's Services as well as a parent, is based on taunting, mocking, sending messages, circulating rumours that kind of thing.
What youngsters do there is pick on any difference or any perceived difference and I suspect that the most common form of taunting these days is about sexuality or perceived sexuality, because the use of say racist slurs or commenting on someone's disability is somehow less acceptable by young people, and we all know that young people use the word gay in a very casual and derogatory way.
I think it is really important that they understand that spreading those kind of rumours whether people are gay or not, is simply inappropriate.
Even if Dominic were gay it should have been his choice when to come out publicly about it, not have someone else do it on his behalf.
I think it's really important that schools tackle that area of difference like schools tackle racism within a school. I think it is a really hard issue for schools to tackle.
I think schools need help with it, there are very few teachers who are prepared to be publicly out for all sorts of reasons, so I think gay youngsters or youngsters who are uncertain about their sexuality don't often have positive role models or people they can look to for support in schools, and they need to know that they can trust adults on these issues.
I think there are lessons for all schools about being really proactive in promoting positive cultures and zero tolerance approaches to bullying whatever form it takes, whatever difference is being picked on, whether it be difference or perceived difference.
Do you think schools and teachers are scared of approaching this subject?
Yes, I think they are for all sorts of reasons. I think there is still a legacy of Section 28 in many schools.
I think sometimes Head Teachers and Governors are sometimes reluctant to tackle issues around sexuality and homophobia, and although most bullying policies talk about homophobic bullying, I think it's the kind of area where schools have got the furthest to go.
Dominic went to St Edwards which is an Independent Catholic school, do you think this kind of bullying is worse in faith schools?
I think it's really difficult to say whether the issue is worse in faith schools. I think there could well be issues in faith schools, where trying to promote a culture of tolerance and acceptance in celebration of difference of all kinds, is made more difficult because some of the teachers will have deep seated religious convictions that homosexuality is sinful.
It's quite difficult to give a positive message, if you've got a deep seated conviction that this difference is a sin.
So I think it's hard for schools to get a whole school policy and a whole school culture that promotes that. Independent schools don't always have to have Personal & Social Education on the curriculum either, St Edward's doesn't have a specific slot for PSE, it tends to cover that through things like religious education and maybe there's an issue there about how these sorts of issues get on the curriculum in independent schools.
Both the internet and mobile phones played a part in the way in which Dominic was bullied. What impact do you think this kind of new technology is having on bullying in schools today?
I think it's one of the main vehicles by which pupils are bullied, people are either sent messages themselves or they are made aware that messages are being sent about them.
Schools often claim that they can't control that, and there is some truth in that, school's can't control every message sent, but anti-bullying isn't just about stopping bullying it is actually about promoting a positive culture. I think schools need to do more to promote a positive culture of acceptance and celebration of difference, and actually saying that certain things are totally unacceptable and actually acting when they are done and looking into them properly.
We've spoken about there being lessons to be learned for schools from this. What about other services?
One of the most upsetting things to come out of the inquest, was that 20 minutes before he took his own life Dominic texted 999 saying that he was going to commit suicide, but because he sent a text he got an automated response - it didn't actually go through to anyone, he just got a message from a machine which said "you texted 999, this service is for registered deaf users only, no emergency service has been alerted".
The Coroner picked up on that issue and BT have responded and they've changed the automated message that comes back, it now says "you need to contact 999 by other means".
I think young people tend to use their mobile phones and send text messages rather than phone calls, they often don't have any credit for calls on their phones, the reason Dominic didn't call could have been as simple as he didn't have any credit and he sent a text because of that.
I think that issue needs to be looked at because young people will text 999, and you can think of circumstances when texting 999 is the only safe way for a young person to actually contact emergency services, they may be in a situation where they can't actually speak.
I'd like to see schools and Children's Services more generally looking at the number of suicides by teenagers. I don't think we've got a very clear picture of how many young people take their lives, and I don't think we've got a very clear picture about how many young people take their own lives because of bullying; one national charity BeatBullying estimates that 41% of school aged suicides are precipitated through bullying.
I think we need both young people who are distressed to understand the impact of suicide on themselves and on their families, and we need youngsters who think that it's not bullying, it's banter, it's a laugh, to think about the impact and what it can actually do to young people.
We've spoken a lot about embedding anti-bullying work into the school curriculum, do you think we need to do the same about talking about the impact of suicide?
When you're 15, 16 and probably especially if you are a male, you think you are going to live forever and you think you are immortal. I thought I was immortal when I was that age and took risks that I would never take now, and I think the reality of death and the finality of it isn't always really understood by young people.
Sometimes there's a tendency to romantacise death, almost in a rock star culture kind of way. Well, actually there isn't anything romantic about dying at 15, there's nothing romantic about dying because you jumped from a high building. It's a hideous and horrible way to go and it has a devastating impact on the people you leave behind.
But it's almost a taboo to talk about the impact of suicide and I think that's in part because we don't actually know how big the issue is, and in part it's down to some traditional attitudes about people who take their own lives.
Now for you personally and as a family, how do you move forward?
What was really hard and still is really hard is that there's a kind of constant absence in this family, there's someone missing and everyday to some extent you feel that and that's really hard. When you lose a child you kind of have to accept that your life is altered forever really. The things you hoped for, the things you wanted aren't going to happen.
Our lives have changed so enormously over the past year I can't really describe how much it's changed, everything has turned upside down really.
What I find helpful is to draw on my personal experience and my professional experience to say that some services here and support need to be improved, and they are the things that we ought to do and lessons that we ought to learn, not just from Dominic's death but from the death of any young person who has taken their own life because they've been bullied or felt they've been bullied.
And if there's anything I can do about that, I mean it won't bring Dom back, i'll never see his smiling face sitting where you are on the sofa, but if it can help somebody else then it's a way of bringing some meaning to what happened.
Help make schools safer for all young people, donate to an Enough is Enough! Safer Schools Pack http://www.lgf.org.uk/take-action-make-schools-safer/
Watch Roger's interview at http://www.youtube.com/user/lgfonline
If you have experienced suicidal thoughts you can talk to The Lesbian & Gay Foundation on 0845 3 30 30 30, or if you have been affected by suicide get support at Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide, visit http://www.uk-sobs.org.uk/