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Safeguarding Failed Us

Trigger Warning – Rape, Self Harm, Child Abuse, Alcholism, Scuicide, Over Dose

About a month ago – I was sitting in a cafe in my home town. It’s not one I like, in fact I actively dislike it. It is far to expensive and doesn’t serve drinks I like. But I went there to work, it has a good quiet and calm atmosphere. After procrastinating I open a document I am working on. ‘Principles of supporting young people in relation to sexual health and the risk of pregnancy’. It’s actually really interesting. But I had hit a wall, something I couldn’t answer. I hoped going to this new environment would help. I opened up the NSPCC website and found the information I needed.

And then I started crying.

It wouldn’t stop.

I was crying as I left the cafe. I got on a bus a spent the evening at my ex’s house, as she was the only one who understood why.

I work with young people, which means I need to have a knowledge of safeguarding. Safegaurding is when you think a young person is at risk, being abused, or a danger to themselves or others you must report this. To whom you report it to depends on your work and where you are in your organisation. The concern will be escalated to the right people, such as social services, a safeguarding lead (person in charge) of your organisation. Safegaurding happens EVERYWHERE, and applies to those 18 years and younger.

I have been working with young people for some time but it was not until recently that my understanding of laws and procedures improved. It was also around this time that I started to recognise and deal with my own abuse.

You probably didn’t know about this. Until now only my therapist and my ex girlfriend did. And that’s not because I wanted to keep it a secret, it was because I didn’t recognise it for the abuse it was.

A few weeks earlier – I am at a work, for a study day. I have the same document open. I ask my manager for help with a question. He says the words ‘sexual abuse’, and I start crying. Why do you have to cry Alex? Why can’t you stop?

I am at my parents house, and I find a diary from when I was 16 years old. I read it hesitantly, knowing I had mental health problems. But it’s all fine. Then I find something, and it’s not fine, somthing I apparently made myself forget. It’s not the biggest deal. But to me, to have a missing memory, to realise how much I re-wrote my past. It’s really scary.

Here is a short time line of how safeguarding failed me –

About 14 years old – I tell a teacher I am self harming. I end up seeing the school doctor, who says ‘I am like a smoker who wants to quit but isn’t quite there yet’. Soon later my parents find out. I assumed the school told them. I found out about a month ago it was my best friend. I continue to self harm on and off until I am 23.

About 15 years old – I start doing musical theatre with a company full of adults and only a few people my age. We are supposed to have chaperones but don’t. Even though many of us have family in the cast, we are still supposed to have them. I thought this was great, I didn’t want to be followed around and patronised.

About 16 years old – I am touched and communicated with inappropriately by an older man in a show I am in. There are no chaperones. He has known me since I was 15, and clearly waited until I was 16. My diary tells me details about this time I had forgotten.

About 20 years old – I am at my first university and very mentally ill. For some reason I am called into a meeting with three of my tutors. One of them says that they ‘bet I blame my therapist for my problems’. They do not refer me to anyone else or any other support within the university.

OK break from the timeline.

13 Reasons Why SPOILERS

I was watching 13 reasons why, which I very much enjoyed. Well, enjoyed is an odd word. But I got a lot out of it. I watch the extra segment at the end, and one of the creators says something that hits home. He say’s

‘The challenge for Hannah is that she would have had to have the strength to describe what happened to her and the courage and determination to label it as rape, to get [the councillors] attention. And she was not able to do that. And that is not her fault. Sexual assault comes with so much shame, on top of the pain, on top of  the violation, that for victims to talk about it is incredibly hard …’

And something that had been going around in my head cam to the surface. And I decided I  needed to have the courage and the determination. So I called someone and told them, before I became to scared to say it.

Back to the timeline.

About 23 years old – I am raped. I thought it was just sex I wasn’t that into, but looking back it is not. I drank a lot to get through the sex. I drank a lot after as well. I take two over doses that year. The hospital refers me to no one.

Even though in some of these later incidents I am over 18, it was still the institutions responsiblity to look out for me.  And they didn’t.

I have been reading and watching a bit about child abuse cases, and it made me realise, it’s ok that we were failed. Obviously I don’t mean it’s ‘ok’, like it was fine it happened. Stay with me. There are hundreds of us that were and continue to be failed. And we did nothing to deserve that. Either our service wasn’t working well, or we weren’t noticed. But it’s not because we aren’t worthy, it’s not because we don’t matter and it’s not because our problems are too small. I don’t know why it is, but it was nothing to do with us.

Now when the organisations I work with take safeguarding so seriously, sometimes, oddly it makes me feel sad. Because I wonder what could have happened if I had that support.

With out it I have been left with a career in jeopardy because I become upset when sexual abuse is mentioned. I have a history of problems, that may have been a little shorter if I had been safeguarded. But now, again I need the courage and the determination to keep talking about these things and be part of these conversations, so that I can do my job effectively.

A couple of weeks ago – I have to leave the room while grooming is discussed. I cry so much. Please. Stop. Crying.

I shared this I think so that people understand their rights. So they see there are people out there who care and are effected deeply by safegaurding. And to get it out there. The more I talk the less scary it it. The less I’ll cry. Hopefully.

Go forward with courage and determination.

Thank you so much for reading.

2

Blue Night and The Mirror Short Stories

He’s a fool and don’t I know it,

But a fool can have his charms.

I’m in love and don’t I show it,

Like a babe in arms.

– Bewitched, Lorenz Hart

Blue Night

He is a loser if you compare him to normal standards of success. He works in a piano shop where the walls are covered in sheet music and everything else is layered with saw dust. He is a virtuoso, a player, he speaks French, he gives me drugs. He walks through the market yelling ‘I’m an idiot’ in his thick accent, regularly to my embarrassment. We both sit upstairs with nothing but a blue light from the computer to see by.

‘I want to try something’ Adi says in his thick Eastern European accent. ‘I want to try to talk with out speaking’.

‘Your mental’ I say.

‘No more speaking’.

He puts his hands on the side of my face and I wonder if he’s going to kiss me. Then he lets go, now he is sure he is my only focus. I look at him, in his dark eyes and think ‘you’re a pervert’. I can hear what he’s saying to me, he’s being suggestive.

After a while we stop.

We walk carefully down the narrow stairs and work our way around to the front of the shop, weaving through pianos and many going through complicated alterations by Trevor, the owner. We sit and the front of the shop and open a massive fake book I keep at the shop. I know what number the song is I want with out looking I sing it so often. I dump the book onto the piano’s music stand and wait for Adi to give me his full attention impatiently. The two of us look odd together, a nineteen year old with badly dyed blonde hair and tall late-twenties Romanian who wears tweed suits. Eventually he sits down, a small crowd gathers as usual and I sing.

‘I’ve Seen a lot

I mean I lot

But now I’m like sweet seventeen a lot

Bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I

I’ll sing to him

Each spring to him

And worship the trousers that cling to him

Bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I’

Afterwards the spectators applaud and few people compliment me. Many shoppers crowd around Adi. ‘Play Chopin’ they demand, ‘Play Mozart’. He responds in his normal way by playing ‘Doe, a deer’ and augmenting most of the chords to make a hideous off key noise that still resembles the song. For someone so arrogant in his personality, he is humble when his playing is concerned. After the shoppers disperse Adi is given permission to go home and he helps shut up the shop.

We go to the little area between where the stables end and the rest of the market begins and I give him one of my cigarettes. The market has been closed for a while, I’m normally around after closing. It’s like being in an oversized shop after hours. The giant robot that fronts Cyber Dog shines in the moonlight and we hear noise from inside The Cuban Bar, the only place that stays open this late. It’s expensive, we don’t drink there.

Adi lays a tissue on the top of a bin, then rolls the cigarette between his fingers so all the tobacco falls out on to the tissue. He then does his usual ‘look left, look right’ and when he is satisfied no one is around he produces a small bag and mixes the green in with the tobacco. He then fills the cigarette back up with the mixture.

We head to the park, and stop of at ‘Camden News’ to get two cans of K Cider each. A really dirty drink, at 8.4 percent alcohol.

Adi sits on a bench and I join him. We light the joint and smoke it very fast as the paper burns quickly. Nothing happens for a while. He puts his arm around me and tells me about the politics in Romania. After a while the lights on the houses surrounding the park shine brighter.

‘Those lights look happy’. I say.

He responds by trying to convince me the moon landing isn’t real. He finally stops to say ‘Can I kiss you?’

‘No’ I laugh.

***

Flip on a switch, and everything’s fine – 
No more lips, no more tongue, no more ears, no more eyes
The naked blue angel, who peers through the blinds
Disappears in the gloom of the mirror-blue night

‘Mirror-Blue Night’ From Spring Awakening

***

The Mirror

After sitting in the park for a while Adi and I get cold and decided to walk up to Loving Hut. Max and David are meeting us there. They disappeared about three months later and I never saw them again. My feet feel numb and free as I walk along the pavement. It’s dark and the windows of shops near the market shine and look like they are sleeping. After a few minutes of walking, as we get nearer to the restaurant, all the shops are like any others in London, chains that you can find anywhere. We pass the Argos where I saw an old Muslim lady get pushed out of a car and left outside the front of the shop to beg. There is the Waterstones I sat down in to call the NSPCC after I saw a man coercing along a young girl with long dark hair and a pink puffer jacket who looked drugged. My feet feel like they are folding in on themselves.

We turn into Loving hut.

On the wall Supreme Master TV is playing its footage. ‘The leader’ in a pink dress is talking about aliens who want to takeover the planet and how we should all be vegan. We always ignore the propaganda, or watch it to laugh at it.

The food is good, and you can pay as much as you like for it, so we go there often. The inside of the shop is a glare of white and metal.

I cannot move the way I want to, so I am grateful that the room is small and easy to navigate. We sit at a table near the door where Max and David are waiting. They are gay, and in love with each other, but not partners.

We wave to the man behind the counter who’s name I never knew and asked for tap water. From the look of us it was obvious we wanted tap water.

My feet buzz. My body feels like it is moving when it is not. It is hard to move my fingers apart and I constantly have the sensation that my nose is running even when, after asking for a mirror I know it is not. David provides me with a mirrored tile, the kind you use in bathrooms.

‘I didn’t expect you to have a mirror on you’ I say.

‘You don’t know want to know why I do’ David says and then starts to laugh.

David is skinny and badly shaven, Max is a little bigger with bordering on ginger hair. Neither have a specific aesthetic of dress sense.

Being stoned we all decide to get the vegan Chinese buffet. What would normally be simply pleasant food, now becomes an attainable dream. Fulfillment can be achieved by stuffing my face with people who were to preoccupied to care. Sleeping with Adi could also bring fulfillment, but I am too distant from internal thoughts to work him out.

My plate was pilled with rice and bean curd made to taste like moist beef. I only eat with a fork. I have a few mouthfuls and then feel hot, and claustrophobic, and needed to smoke more. That happens sometimes.

‘I’m going for a quick fag’. They laugh at my use of the word.

‘Hurry back’ I don’t know who said it, the voice was English, so not Adi.