Shocked, disappointed by revelations of sexual abuse in BHS

Dear Editor,

As former students, Bishops’ High holds a special place in our hearts. Many of us can look back at our high school journey fondly, with perhaps a dose of embarrassment, but nevertheless, good memories of classes, school parties, trips, friends, and memorable teachers who all made a lasting positive impact.

Unfortunately, for others, those positive memories are marred when persons in authority misuse their position of trust to abuse, harass and shame students.  The recent disclosures of grooming, harassment, and sexual abuse made in various media outlets, were met with shock and massive disappointment in the actions taken (and not taken) by the administration of our former school.  It is for this reason, we the undersigned, have joined together to demand an immediate end to the culture of abuse; and to further demonstrate our unwavering support for those who have bravely stepped forward to tell their stories.

To any survivor reading this letter, please know that you have our support. We recognise that this cannot be easy and we applaud your bravery in stepping forward when many may try to hold you back. We commit to doing our part in not letting this slip into the shadows of silence, which the abuse has hidden in and fed on for so many years. We are sorry that BHS did not do enough to protect you. We are sorry that the reputation of an abuser was given priority over your safety and welfare. We are sorry that it took so long for someone to really listen to what you were saying. Please know that we are listening now and we are cheering you on as you heal and regain your power.

We are calling for the immediate suspension of the alleged main perpetrator of these crimes. Mr Coen Jackson has been accused of engaging, in his 10 years at BHS, in a patterned and systematic cycle whereby he preyed on vulnerable young girls. He allegedly used his position as a teacher with a measure of control in the academic fates of his students, in order to coerce students into sexual activity. Even more reprehensible is the fact that the abuse was allowed to continue thanks to the silence, deafness and blind eyes of the school’s leadership.

With this in mind, we  call for the immediate resignation of the headteacher Ms Ellis whose recent public  tirade against the girls under her care, was not only unprofessional and inappropriate, but re-victimized every woman and  girl affected by abuse. There are no words to describe how saddened and dismayed many of us felt to hear her blame children for the actions of an adult predator. She has failed in her duty to create a safe learning environment for the students under her care.

We support a complete and thorough investigation by the Ministry of Education, the Guyana Police Force, and the Childcare and Protection Agency. According to the Sexual Offences Act (2010), Section 20. (i): In proceedings relating to an offence under this Act, a person commits the offence of obstructing the prosecution if that person prevents a child from – (a) giving a statement to the police; giving evidence in any other way which would be admissible for the paper committal; or (b) (i) (ii) Obstructing prosecution.  (2) A person who commits an offence under subsection (1) is liable on summary conviction to a fine of one million dollars and to imprisonment for five years.

Any school administrator and teacher who may be found to be complicit by not taking action against the abuse and further victimising students, must be removed, and held accountable.

To the Board and administration of BHS, we can no longer say “Bishops” with the pride we once did until measures are put in place to foster the healing of victims, and to ensure that all forms of abuse and harassment of students never happens again. Step up and do what’s right! Schools are meant to be safe spaces, to groom boys and girls for success, not for exploitation!

Finally, we call on the wider Guyanese society to thoroughly examine the cultural norms that allow the abuse of women and children to remain a pervasive and silent crime. We encourage everyone to support victims of gender-based violence, and to hold perpetrators of violence accountable for their crimes.

Yours faithfully,

  1. Tamara Whalen, Class of 1997
  2. Carlton Allen, Class of 1999
  3. Salima Hinds, Class of 2003
  4. Oswald Alleyne, Class of 1997
  5. Kemol King, Class of 2013
  6. Magna Griffith-Wills, Class of 1990,
  7. Avinash Budhram, Class of 1997
  8. Melissa Allen, Class of 2008
  9. Clarence Garraway, Class of 1992
  10. Indira Dyal-Garib, Class of 1986
  11. Renee Charles, Class of 1982
  12. Amanda Lalita Rameshwar, Class of 1995
  13. Joanne Ford-Brumell, Class of 2002
  14. Danielle Fleming, Class of 1997
  15. Joseph Brian Singh, Class of 1991
  16. Rebecca Ganesh-Ally, Class of 1999
  17. Donnella Collison, Class of 2003
  18. Christene Delph, Class of 2003
  19. Caroline Daniels, Class of 2000
  20. Jonelle Clement, Class of 2001
  21. Christopher Singh, Class of 2004
  22. Geeta Prashad, Class of 1975
  23. Marissa Massiah, Class of 1997
  24. Pratima Narine, Class of 1995
  25. Malyka Rahaman, Class of 2004
  26. Annabelle Carter, Class of 1993
  27. Pauline Gardner, Class of 1976
  28. Deborah Rosanwo, Class of 1983
  29. Eve Drayton Hill, Class of 1971
  30. Lyn Morris, Class of 1964
  31. Zahid Hack, Class of 2011
  32. Deandra Walker, Class of 2011
  33. Jason Porte, Class of 1999
  34. Tianna Mohamed, Class of 2015
  35. Allison Boucher, Class of 2005
  36. Marissa Fox, Class of 2000
  37. Penelope Yearwood, Class of 1977
  38. Kevin Sadhu, Class of 1987
  39. Patricia Robinson, Class of 1958
  40. Rizwan Saffie, Class of 2008
  41. Tiya Peterkin, Class of 2003
  42. Jennifer Fredricks Singh
  43. Tracy Gibson, Class of 1990
  44. Ryan Dos Santos, Class of 1992
  45. Kojo McPherson, Class of 2002
  46. Addevi Persaud, Class of 2005
  47. Jai Narine Singh, Class of 1981,
  48. Lauren Selman, Class of 1992
  49. Melanie Yearwood, Class of 1989
  50. Maria van Beek, Class of 1991

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