Well, I am sitting here by my Christmas tree as it is that time of year again – the lights are twinkling, the baubles are glittering and I feel hopeful.
It was very different last year. Last year, I looked at my tree and only had feelings of dread.
Christmas signified a countdown. It was the last holiday we would get to spend together as a family before the trial. We had nothing to look forward to apart from that hell being over.
My daughter was suffering, she was broken. As a mum, all you want to do is make your child happy. She was 14 years old at that point but had already been through far too much…
In May 2013, a police officer knocked on my door and asked to talk to me about my daughter.
My daughter was a bright, happy, clever child with excellent school reports and had never been in any sort of trouble, but for the last few weeks she had been withdrawn, grumpy and emotional. I had asked her on several occasions what was wrong but got snapped at and dismissed. I knew something was wrong. It’s hard to be a 13-year-old, you can easily put things down to teenage angst – but I felt it was more than that, I just didn’t know what.
But nothing could prepare me for what the police officer told me. She started off by asking a few questions: How is your daughter? Do you know your daughter’s friend Child B? Is Child B honest and trustworthy?
I replied that I had always found both of them to be honest and trustworthy.
The officer then asked me: Do you know if your daughter has a boyfriend? Then she named him. “No,” I replied – I had no idea. All sorts of things were running through my head at this point, it was just spinning. What on earth did this police officer want?
She then told me that Child B had reported a sexual relationship between my 13-year-old daughter and the accused.
That’s when my stomach fell through the floor.
The police officer carried on and told me that the man involved was 23 years old, but that it wasn’t as bad as it sounds as he only had a mental age of 12. Not as bad as it sounds?! This is an adult man! How an earth did he get contact with my child in the first place? I am a fussy mum. I don’t just let my child go anywhere. I have always said that if she wants to go out and socialise with her friends then it had to be a constructive activity such as swimming or skating – not just wondering around the streets. She always had to be in by 7pm but was allowed to have her friends round at our house or be round at there’s. I just couldn’t understand how this could have happened.
The police officer explained to me that she met him at a local charity centre. She used to go and help out and play a game called yugioh on a Saturday. The centre advertised itself under a very well-known and well-respected charity’s name, a name that you wouldn’t associate with child abuse. You would naturally assume your child would be safe there as its main goal is to help vulnerable people.
My daughter was very trusting, kind and caring; a really beautiful soul. Charity work was something she had always taken part in. To her, it was just a natural thing to do, to help people less fortunate than herself.
But this man had struck up a friendship with her. He was a member of staff at the centre. She was told that he had some difficulties but was very clever in some areas. Therefore, she perceived him to be someone she could trust and someone she should be nice to.
He added her as a friend on a social networking site and began talking to her, paying her lots of compliments and making her feel special. He also started buying her gifts.
He told her not to tell me about it as I would say he was a paedophile and stop him from seeing her.
At the first opportunity he had to be alone with her, my daughter says he raped her.
I won’t go into details about the actual incident.
The police officer explained that my child would have to do a video witness statement and left.
At this point, it felt like time had stopped. What are you supposed to do next? They leave and you’re left with nothing. I gave my little girl a massive hug and told her she wasn’t in any trouble, that none of it was her fault, to just tell the truth. I told her that she would always have my support, no matter what.
The relief was written all over her tear-stained face. It wasn’t simply relief over my reaction but relief that this was out in the open. She told me that she didn’t want to see this man anymore but didn’t know how to tell him. She was scared. She couldn’t cope with the secret anymore, it was eating her up inside, but he had put so much pressure on her not to tell. This man had been telling her how beautiful she was and how much he loved her in a barrage of messages, and had then told her to delete the messages, to keep their secret. She had obeyed.
Things kept getting worse. We had no victim support, just one police officer dealing with everything. My daughter was struggling with what had happened. I asked for counselling for her. The investigation didn’t seem to be progressing – a lot of evidence wasn’t being collected, including witness statements, and the police were putting pressure on me to drop the case.
I was then told a story by the police officer about a young underage girl who had made allegations about a taxi driver. In the policewoman’s opinion, the girl entrapped the taxi driver into having sex with her and the taxi driver was a victim of the young girl’s. The officer felt that it was all the girl’s fault. According to the police officer, the poor taxi driver ended up being convicted and spending years in prison and the young girl was free to move on to her next victim.
The policewoman then asked me how I would feel if that was my son? My reaction was very quick: “That is not my daughter” and I asked her what she was trying to imply. She said: “Oh, I know that, but how would you feel if you were the accused’s mum? I know how I would feel if that was my son”.
That wasn’t the only thing she said which I viewed as inappropriate. She told my now-suicidal daughter: “You weren’t groomed, you weren’t raped, you consented and I think [the accused] really loved you.”
I felt we had been abandoned into the arms of a biased police officer and that we had no-one helping us or looking at what my daughter really needed. One of those needs was counselling, she was in desperate need of it. It was like walking through a minefield, never knowing when the next one would go off.
18 months later and still the only counselling she has received has been with the school counsellor. No disrespect to her but my daughter needs a professional rape counsellor.
Thankfully, we then met a good local team called Make A Change. They have helped us a lot but we had no access to them until my daughter was in a state of crisis.
It is hard to explain exactly how I felt during this time because you feel everything. Every day was a roller coaster of emotions, but as a mum you don’t have the privilege of considering your own emotions. You have to find that inner strength and resilience because you are your child’s foundation, you have to be their centre, their strength, their advocate.
To anyone reading this, if you’re going through something similar, I would say that things do eventually get better. You learn to cope, become strong and, with baby steps, start to heal.
We didn’t get the result we wanted in court – the man walked free. But I am so glad we saw it through and never dropped the case.
I showed my child that I believed in her, that I was steadfast in my support, that none of it was her fault. It so easy for people to sweep these things under the carpet, to not talk about them, and to think that if you don’t talk then maybe they will all go away.
But talking about it helps. I have found this reservoir of strength that I never knew I had. Why should I keep quiet? My daughter has done nothing wrong and the best way to show her that is to speak out and show her that she has nothing to be ashamed of. As a 13-year-old, you don’t have the skills to deal with adult situations. That is why the legal age of consent is 16 – it is there to protect children.
The work that the Make A Change team have done has helped make my child less vulnerable. They have taught her how to deal with adult situations, how to understand sexual body language and how to spot manipulative behaviour.
A lot of people would say that this is the job of a parent. But I would say to them: me and my daughter had a good relationship, we could and did talk openly about sex.
Teenage children are naïve, they are just discovering sexual feelings, their bodies are being bombarded with hormones – being showered with attention and gifts must seem exciting, it gives them a rush. That rush hides the reality and the dangers around them. That is how these predators work: using flattery, along with threats and intimidation, they exert control over their victim.
I am no expert. I’m just a mum trying my best to prevent future victims from being treated the way we were. Some may say we should be working to prevent victims being created in the first place but there’s an epidemic of sexual predators which so far no one has come up with a vaccine for; further victims are unfortunately inevitable. To join me in my fight, please sign my petition for a law to protect the rights of victims: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/victims-law