Let’s Talk About Grammar Schools, Rugby and Rape.

There were two types of kids in my school, ones who attended Medallion parties and ones who didn’t (disclosure: I didn’t). Medallion parties were hosted after every match during the season by a member of the Medallion rugby team.

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Regent House Grammar School (Image from Google Maps)

The Medallion rugby team was made up of the best rugby players in the year, all boys aged between 14 and 15. The parties were hosted at the home of one of the players and in attendance were the most popular, outgoing and beautiful people from that school year. If you are picturing something from an American high school teen movie, you’re probably on the right track.

In my year, the team made it to the Medallion Cup Final, which is hosted at Northern Ireland’s largest rugby stadium, the home of Ulster Rugby, Ravenhill. In the stands were hundreds of fans watching these teenagers as they played. Should these boys remain committed to their rugby training, they would then make it onto the 1st XV. The 1st XV competed for the Schools Cup, for which the final was hosted again at Ravenhill only this time, it was also shown on national TV throughout Northern Ireland. If your school was competing in the final, pupils were given a half-day to attend the match. During my time at Regent House School, I attended numerous matches at Ravenhill. The Medallion team from my year and the 1st XV made both finals there and so I stood with my friends, faces painted in our school colours, talking about our favourite player from the side-lines. It is no exaggeration to say that these boys were treated like minor celebrities.

Amongst the players and their close friends in my school were Jeff Anderson, Dylan Rogers and James McQuillan. All of whom are now convicted rapists, stalkers or domestic abusers (and in some cases, all three.) If you’re reading this, you’ve probably read my article on Jeff Anderson’s crimes and his father’s wealth and influence. However, you may not be aware of his close friend James McQuillan’s convictions for stalking and domestic violence, or his rugby teammate, Dylan Rogers, brutal rape and attack of his then-girlfriend.

Jeff and James pictured together at a party. Personal image sent to me from a former friend of Jeff.

I understand that the content of this article may be distressing to some and whilst I am in no way suggesting that the fact some of these men played rugby is to blame for their actions, I do feel it is important to bring into context the pedestal upon which these boys are placed and the sense of entitlement, exceptionalism and invulnerability that they grow up to develop as a result of this teenage idolisation.

Of course, I could not write about rugby and rape without mentioning the very public trial involving Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding. Which sparked protests right across Northern Ireland and launched the #IBeliverHer movement. Whilst the men in this case were found not guilty, the comments they made after the alleged attack in their group WhatsApp included statements like “we’re all top shaggers”, “there was a bit of spit roasting going on last night fellas”, “Boys, did you pass spit roast brasses” and “why are we all such legends?.” At the same time, they were sending each other these messages, their victim was asking friends if they could drive her from Belfast to Newry to get emergency treatment in a specialist rape support centre. She received a 1cm laceration (cut) in her vaginal wall during the ordeal.

Regardless of whether you feel they were guilty of the crime or not, the language used to describe the victim, who at the time was 18, at the centre of the case is indicative of and offers an insight to, the way in which women are discussed and their sexuality ridiculed, in a male-dominated sporting environment.

It may seem far-fetched to some that I could possibly have known Jeff, James and Dylan. However, the predatory nature of these men revealed itself long before their crimes became known. As I’ve disclosed previously, I had a near escape with Jeff when I was 15 and whilst I never met up with James, he was a known ‘creep’ amongst almost everyone in my year. It was not uncommon for girls my age, that is two to three years younger than James and Jeff, to receive messages and other online interactions from them (as I did) and we knew as a collective that they were trying to garner the attention of as many girls as possible. In fact, it is through the publishing of my previous article that it has been brought to my attention how many women Jeff tried to connect with, as so many others ‘lucky’ to have escaped, have got in touch to share their experiences.

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Dylan, myself and my friend pictured together on a night out in 2010. Personal image

I knew Dylan better than Jeff and James as he was only one year above me and was best friends with a former boyfriend I had at age 18. Dylan’s arrogance and sense of entitlement was something that stood out to everyone who knew him. I particularly remember him saying to me on a night out “I know you want me.” At the same time as I was going out with his best friend. This sort of grotesquely arrogant statement was very much in character for Dylan, as I am sure anyone reading this that knew him will attest to.

Dylan Rogers, is now serving nine years in prison in Spain for brutally raping, attacking, beating and locking up his girlfriend during a sustained two-day attack. During which time, he took the sim card out of her phone and deleted all of her contacts, threw eggs at her, pepper-sprayed her and demanded she danced naked for him whilst calling her his ‘slave.’ Dylan also hit her and smashed her head against the wall. He then grabbed hold of her neck and told her “he didn’t care whether he had to kill her” and covered her mouth with tape. His victim managed to escape, naked and covered in injuries, whilst Dylan showered.

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James McQuillan and Jeffrey Anderson, pictured together. Personal image sent to me from a former friend of Jeff.

James McQuillian, pictured above with Jeffrey Anderson, was given a nine-month suspended sentence after attacking and stalking his ex-girlfriend after she broke up with him. Ciara Hindman, his victim, who has spoken out about her attack and now campaigns for more appropriate, safe and protective sentencing in Northern Ireland for victims of stalking and domestic violence, sustained injuries to her face, neck and body during the assault. For which James was charged with occasioning actual bodily harm, threats to kill and breaching a non-molestation order. James stalked and harassed Ciara and entered her apartment block on at least 100 occasions between February 10th 2019 until he was arrested on March 29. He turned up at her work as he knew when she took lunch breaks and would appear in and around her building. On one occasion Ciara was sat outside the building with her friends when they saw James leaving when she called the police, they found his shoes on a different floor. There is currently no law relating specifically to stalking in Northern Ireland through which James could be charged.

Whilst I can’t confirm if James played rugby, he was close friends with Jeff who did. He was a part of the social circle's Jeff was in and they shared the same friends. Dylan and Jeff both played on the 1st XV, meaning they were treated as sporting prodigies destined for greatness. In the reporting of both Jeff and Dylan’s sexual attacks, their attendance at a grammar school and their position as rugby players have been mentioned on numerous occasions.

Three men, within a two-year age span in my school, have been convicted of physically or sexually abusing women. When we consider that only 15% of those that experience sexual violence report it to the police, and of those reported only 1.7% end up in convictions, it’s equally astonishing and terrifying to realise how much of an exception these men are to have even been caught and convicted.

The Schools Cup Final for 2020 was cancelled due to COVID, however, the 2019 final featured a promo video which was shared on the Ulster Rugby Youtube channel. In the video, which opens to the screams of an adoring crowd, boys of 17 or 18 years of age pose in sponsored rugby shirts, pitted against each other in a setting familiar to professional sport. If it wasn’t for their pubescent faces and bodies, teenage acne and overly styled — could only be a teenage boy — haircuts, you could be forgiven for assuming that this video was for full-time salaried players in a premiership league final.

Whilst there were no Youtube videos or ‘promos’ when I was in school, the sensationalising, adoration and worship with which these young men — boys — were treated was palpable, especially in the run-up to a cup match.

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Ravenhill Stadium, home to Ulster Rugby where the Medallion and Schools Cup Final are played. Image free to distribute in the public domain.

Numerous men who knew Jeff, many of whom played rugby with him, have messaged me, some anonymously and some bravely revealing their identity, since I published my article on Colin Anderson, to tell me of their regret and guilt at not doing something sooner. “He showed me a video on the tour bus once of a naked girl but I assumed someone sent it to him”, “I heard he had a spy pen but I never saw anything from it”, “He would come and sit beside me sometimes when we were heading to a match and talk about all the girls he’d slept with.” I understand and empathise with the guilt these men now feel, how could they have known that Jeff would actually be committing crimes that were so obscene, so deplorable?

What we must now ask ourselves as people, men and women, who want to see an end to the pervasiveness of this kind of predatory and abusive behaviour are what allows these boys to grow up into men that commit this kind of heinous acts. Regardless of the complete lack of appropriate sentencing (that’s another article in itself) the environment in which these boys are brought up, the sense of eliteness, of impenetrability and invulnerability that they develop from such a young age, when they’re told by their elders that their purpose in life, in rugby, in sport, is bigger than themselves, surely impacts how they move forward in the world and how they see themselves reflected in it.

Once again, this article isn’t an attack on rugby as a sport per se, more, it seeks to highlight the undeniable link between raising boys to behave like men long before they can understand who they are and what their place is in the world. Had Dylan, Jeff and to an extent James been relieved of the pressure of toxic masculinity, to not feel obliged to fulfil the roles forced upon them by a system that only respects and recognises physical prowess as a currency of what it means to be a man then perhaps their minds wouldn’t have become so warped in their sense of right and wrong. Perhaps if they didn’t feel a sense of entitlement and privilege resulting from the formative years of their lives being played out as heroes on the rugby field then maybe they wouldn’t have felt at liberty to take from the women closest to them whatever they felt they wanted, without their consent. Or perhaps they would have committed these crimes regardless.

Having spent 5 years of my life walking past them in the corridors of our school, knowing who they were before having learnt their second names and watching as parents, teachers and pupils alike shouted their names and screamed their praises from the sidelines, I do believe that the sense of small-town celebrity culture in which these men grew up has played a very crucial part in the criminals they have become.

Please consider making a donation to the Support Fund for Victims of Jeffrey Anderson to continue the fight for justice for the brave women who have spent six years of their lives trying to lock him up. For further information on Ciara Hindman and her remarkable campaign to introduce stalking laws in NI please visit this link.

Written by

Writer, feminist, big tall hippy Irish person. I write about gender, rights, culture and society. LLM Human Rights Law - University of York

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