A Gloucestershire family has been hit by a double tragedy. Fifteen-year-old Dominic Crouch took his own life in 2010 following homophobic bullying. Now, his father, Roger Crouch (pictured right), anti-bullying campaigner and recent winner of the Stonewall ‘Hero of the Year’ award, has also died. Just days before his death, Roger spoke to Out In The City editor David Hudson.
In May 2010, Roger and Paola Crouch had to deal with every parent’s worst nightmare. Their son, 15-year-old Dominic, decided to end his own life. The teenager left his Gloucestershire school during the lunch break on Tuesday 18 May, walked to a nearby six-storey building and threw himself from the top. He was rushed to hospital but died a few hours later; his family – including 17-year-old sister Giulia – were at his bedside.
They subsequently learned that Dominic had been the victim of bullying, and that some of the bullying had been homophobic in nature. From notes that Dominic left explaining his actions, it was clear that the bullying was largely to blame for driving him to suicide.
Following Dominic’s death, his father Roger, who had previous experience of working in the children’s services sector, campaigned vigorously to highlight the problems of bullying and homophobia in schools. He spoke movingly about his own experiences in online forums where bullying had been discussed and at various schools and events such as Stonewall’s 2011 Education For All conference.
It was this work that garnered him the Stonewall ‘Hero of the Year’ award, voted
for by Stonewall supporters and presented to him at the annual awards ceremony at the V&A in London in November. Roger, aged 55, also gave a moving speech in mid- November at the launch of Diversity Role Models at the House of Commons, a new initiative to provide schoolchildren with a wide range of role models and inspirational voices. It was following this event that he agreed to be interviewed by Out In The City, and I subsequently talked to him on Thursday 24 November about Dominic and the wider issues of bullying in schools.
Just five days later, his wife Paola Crouch posted a simple message on one of the Facebook pages that had been set up in memory of her son: Friends of Dom Crouch against bullying. It read, “I have the saddest news to give you. The love of my life and Giulia and Domi’s beloved Dad, died tonight. The changes you have started, for young people everywhere, the work you have done against bullying will remain as a towering monument to you. Our hearts break Roger. Domi, Giulia and I loved you so much.”
Roger Crouch died on Monday 28 November 2011. A coroner’s inquest the following week heard that he had hanged himself at the family home. The news left many of those who had worked with him stunned.
Suran Dickson, Chief Executive of Diversity Role Models, told PinkPaper.com: “We are all incredibly sad about his passing and will work even harder to ensure his efforts to reduce homophobic bullying in schools continue. Our hearts go out to Paola and Giulia.”
Roger cared passionately about tackling bullying in schools. From his own experiences, he had a unique insight into the far-reaching devastation that it can cause. We have decided to go ahead and run our interview with him, to highlight issues that he felt so strongly about; to highlight his passion and commitment. We do so with the blessing of his family.
When Dominic Crouch left home to go to school on Tuesday 18 May 2010, he gave his family no indication that anything was amiss. The day before, he had returned from a residential school trip. He had proudly helped a friend who’d had an epileptic seizure, and had said it was “one of the best things I’ve ever done”, and – to his family – he had appeared happy and in good spirits. Clearly, something happened to change that. Later, during that day’s lunch break, he left his school unnoticed. He went to a nearby building and somehow managed to get on to the roof. He stayed there for around an hour, and during that time texted 999, saying, “I’m about to commit suicide. I’m on top of a council housing estate next 2 st Edwards senior school” (sic). Tragically, texts from non-registered users to the 999 number receive an automated response: “You texted 999. No emergency service has been alerted. You must be registered to use this service.”
Shortly afterwards, Dominic threw himself from the top of the building. Despite being rushed to Cheltenham hospital, he died later that evening from his injuries.
His family subsequently learnt that he had been the victim of bullying. Whilst on his school trip prior to his death, Dominic had been playing ‘spin the bottle’. He’d been dared to kiss another boy, and had done so – which had been caught by others on mobile phone cameras. It’s possible that he was worried the footage may have ended up on the internet.
I asked Roger Crouch how aware he
was of the issue of homophobic bullying before this tragedy.
“I was actually a director of children’s services for a large local authority not long before Dom died and I left that for a job with the third sector only a few months before. So, I was pretty well aware of it, increasingly aware since the early 2000s that it was a common form of bullying in schools. Kids use the word ‘gay’ as a kind of catch-all put down, for things or for people. So, I wasn’t at all surprised by that, and when I first saw Dom’s note that said he’d been bullied, which I saw on the night of his death, my immediate assumption was that the nature of that bullying was homophobic.”
Roger believed that bullying has changed over recent years, and instead of being physical bullying, is now more likely to be verbal and psychological.
“Bullies aren’t stupid. They know that if they physically bully someone that it’s likely to be identified and they’re likely to suffer some sanctions. Subtle and more pernicious forms of bullying have become increasingly common. Lots of people think that the psychological form of bullying – the spreading of rumours, gossip, name- calling, social isolation, exclusion, etc is often seen by people in gender terms. They typically see that as the way girls bully... the whole ‘mean girls’ sort of bullying, but I think it’s increasingly common amongst boys as well. It’s a way of ridiculing and humiliating in a way that is much less obvious than physical bullying.”
He readily agreed that developments in technology have made matters worse for many victims of bullying.
“People often blame the technology but I don’t think that’s quite right because I don’t think the technology is responsible. I think what the technology does is make that kind of verbal bullying much easier. You can humiliate your chosen target in front of a much wider audience, much
more easily than you can by name-calling in the playground or wherever. For the target of bullying, the big difference in the technology is that it denies them any place of safety. There’s no refuge. I’m quite old – I’m 55. I went to secondary school in 1967. I lived in a house with one telephone, and that was only ever answered by my mum or dad. When I was away from school, I was safe. The bullies couldn’t get to you. Now the bullies can get to you 24/7, 365 days a year if they want. I think that makes a massive difference. The psychological impact of not having a refuge is something that we really ought to try and understand, because I think you can see it in a lot of the cases of children who have taken their own lives because of bullying and who haven’t got a hiding place.”
Roger was very clear on how he thought schools should be doing more. In the wake of Dominic’s death he campaigned for more schools to take the matter seriously, despairing of any school that claimed they didn’t have any problem with bullying.
“As a parent and as a professional, if I ever hear a school tell me that they don’t have a problem with bullying, I don’t believe them.”
He believed that a school should not dismiss the spreading of rumours and teasing as mere “banter”, and called on more schools to ensure that their anti- bullying policies were effective, duly observed and acted upon. He called for teachers to be mindful of any pupils who seemed distressed or distracted, and to discuss the issue with pupils and whether they felt safe at school. He called on Ofsted and the Department of Education to prioritise the issue, and to focus on the implementation of bullying policies. He also wanted schools to realise one important lesson – that homophobic bullying can affect any pupil.
It would be easy for any of us – however we define our sexual orientation – to believe that homophobia only affects gay people. But as Roger noted, homophobic put-downs are used commonly by school kids to dismiss others. Nobody can know for sure whether Dominic was gay or not, although his father clearly believed he wasn’t.
“He did talk about his sexuality a bit,” he replies when I ask him about this. “He had, not long before he died, asked out one of the girls at the school, or asked her to be ‘in a relationship’ with him, as I think young people these days seem to characterise a relationship by what it means to their Facebook status! He never talked about being gay, and he’d always shown a pretty obvious interest in girls. I do wonder if the homophobic nature of the bullying was sort of conscious homophobia or whether it was that sort of use of the term ‘gay’ as a catch-all put down, because gay is used so casually and frequently in schools, meaning ‘lame’ or ‘useless’. I suspect it may have been a combination of things. He didn’t have a girlfriend... therefore he was easy to label as gay.”
Roger was stunned to recently receive the Stonewall ‘Hero of the Year’ award, in honour of the way that he had bravely and candidly spoken out against bullying since the death of his son.
“I was absolutely gobsmacked! I knew I’d been nominated. I knew that there were various celebrities up for it, including Lady Gaga, and frankly, I thought my chances of winning any competition in which I was shortlisted alongside Lady Gaga were pretty slim! So, I was amazed really. I was absolutely astounded.
“On the one hand I was very honoured, but I think I said on the evening, Paola [his wife] and I were probably the only people who have been awarded Hero of the Year by Stonewall who never really wanted it. I don’t mean that disrespectfully, but we
never wanted the circumstances that led to us being considered for it. But... life deals you some funny hands. I’m very proud to have it.
“We have a Facebook page at Friends of Dom Crouch against bullying. There are lots of other good websites. There’s the Anti-Bullying Coalition. There’s Beat Bullying, which I think is the largest anti- bullying charity in the country. There’s information on Stonewall’s website, and groups like the Lesbian and Gay Foundation (www.lgf.org.uk), which is a Manchester-based charity – they’ve done some fantastic work. Both Stonewall and LGF produce some good packs for schools, specifically on homophobic bullying and tackling homophobia more generally. Increasingly, there are children in schools who are from different families. The kids may not be LGBT, but they might have two dads or two mums, or even just a gay uncle.”
Homophobia is an easy stick with which to beat any child who is seen as different, or who perhaps has gay family members or friends. Dominic Crouch experienced homophobic bullying and subsequently killed himself. He is not the
first teenager to do this, and it is unlikely that he will be the last. Now, his father too is dead, and although few people can ever really understand the reasons why someone decides to end their life, the suicide of his son and the subsequent pain of grief must have been a huge factor in Roger Crouch’s decision.
Those who kill themselves often overlook the huge role that they play in the lives of others, or how they have touched and shaped those around them. Roger Crouch touched the lives of many, and it’s for this reason that he was judged a hero – even if he felt bemused by such an honour. His son, too, was moved by the plight of others.
“[Dom] didn’t judge people,” Roger told me as our interview drew to a close. “He wasn’t bothered by the superficial difference between people. He tended to be nice to people who were a bit on the margins. If there was a new kid at rugby club, or if a new kid joined the school other than at the start of the school year, and they were out on the margins, Dom was the sort of person who befriended them. He’d done that since primary school.
“We got a tremendously moving letter after he died from someone we’d actually forgotten about. They’d only spent a short time at the primary school Dom was at, and his mother wrote and said how nice Dom had been to her son, who had joined the school at half term and hadn’t stayed for a long time. Dom was the only one who really befriended him. That was the kind of kid he was.”
To help the campaign started in memory of Dominic Crouch, check out the Facebook page ‘Friends of Dom Crouch against bullying’.
For confidential support about suicidal thoughts, call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or visit a local Samaritans branch - see www.samaritans.org
(L-R) Roger and Dominic Crouch
Posted: 21 December 2011