I had been concerned for a young girl I had been watching for a while. When I first meet this young lady, she had just come into the country and she was fresh faced and full of life, not an inch of make up on her face. Her hair was always tied in a high pony tail and she was always smiling. She spoke in a strong eastern European accent and there was not a trace of “streets” about her. When I would speak with her she would often talk about “Home” and how beautiful the scenery was. It was refreshing to hear a child speak about the beauty of a landscape and how she would miss going swimming in the river each morning.
A short time after that it was reported that she seemed to be under the influence of a substance. Myself and a colleague went and spoke with her and it was clear she had taken something. She was almost falling asleep on the chair. She openly admitted that she had been smoking weed bit would not tell us who or where she had got it. I remember sitting in front of her and saying, “You know there is no such thing as free weed don’t you”.
When I saw her the next day I said the line again. “There is no such thing as free weed”. She looked at me with her big smile and said that I was being silly. That I didn’t understand about her life. When I said I did she said “Miss, things are not like when you were little” and she giggled and walked off. I remember that day clearly. Watching her walk away from me, trying to figure out the best way to start the intervention that I hoped would impact on her.
Things became difficult. I would not see her as often. From seeing her every day, I was now lucky if I saw a glimpse of her once a week. All services were involved. Involved by also struggling to engage. Throw into that a parent who provides nothing, but lip service and you have a recipe for disaster.
Fast forward a few months and I get a call to say a young person wants to speak to me. When I arrive, I can here a voice raised. “Shut up bruv, ya get me” I hear as I open the door.
And it is her. Make up smeared across her face. No longer wearing smart clothing. Her skirt is too short, and her tights have ladders in them. She is wearing an oversized puffa coat with the hood up. Her hair is greasy and hangs limp around her face. Her face is not smiling, but angry. Her hands are deep in her pockets.
I call her name. Her head snaps up and she smiles. I try to smile back. What’s good I ask her. She replies in a strong streets style speech, still with her accent. Every other word is “Bruv”. I ask what is going on and she goes very quiet. She asks if she can speak with me. We talk. She tells me that she has done some bad stuff and I wont like her anymore. I am sitting with a colleague who is also a very good friend of mine, we look at each other, not a word said verbally but the unsaid words are that we need to get her to listen.
“Nothing you say will make me not like you” I say. She won’t look at me. I say her name loud and firm. She looks up and I repeat the words. She discloses that she has been sleeping with several boys. She says that she doesn’t really want to, but they have given her weed, cigarettes and alcohol so she must. I ask her if they say that she must, and she says no, she just knows she has too.
I spend a long time, a few months, educating this girl about consent and what consent is. She just couldn’t get it. She said that you have to do sexual things with males or they wont bother with you. She told me that her “friends “would be angry if she started saying no because they were all doing it.
But I just kept on educating her. She would come to me every other day and ask the same question.
“What is consent miss?”
We would talk about it and she would often cry. Not saying a word. It was as if I was confirming her worst fears each time. As if she was checking in with me that what ever she had done the night before or in her past…it was not with consent. And she would just cry. Services were still involved, and all this was raised. Of course, it was.
She spoke about the males who said that she had to “Do stuff with”. Had to. Some were older. She was 14 and some were over 20. She contracted STIs.
Then she started to hate herself. That was the worst part for me. When she started to blame herself. We tried to work through it, but you could see her mental health was suffering. So, referrals for mental health were put in.
We were told there was a waiting list. A long waiting list. She would not be fast tracked.
So now my guilt kicked in. I educated this girl to understand what was happening to her. And now other services were failing her.
But we continued to work together. She grew strong. Things got complicated. But she grew strong. She started fighting back. She started speaking out. She started telling the males NO. NO.
I took fight to a next level. I made people know that they would be held accountable. I contacted people in positions of power that had to listen to what was happening. I addressed what I could be doing better to help her, and then I made sure that I was trained to do so. Not just me. The people I work with. We made sure her voice was heard.
Funny…she will never know the things that have been done to protect her. The fights that have been taking place to keep her safe. The stand-up rows I have had with people much senior than me. The tears that have been shed for her.
And she doesn’t need to know.
The story is not over. No happy ending…yet. She has been away for the whole summer. I wonder if a long break, where she returned “Home” is going to have the impact I would like for her. She is no longer involved with any of these people sexually.
But then again, she will be just coming back to the same area with the same people. The same services.
When I speak at the FiLiA 2018 conference and speak about females being failed by the state, it will be her that will be referring too mainly.
And when I post on the 10th of September #shemakesme understand why I do this job every day. It is her I will be referring to.
And do you know how she say goodbye to me most days when she leaves my room.
“Laters miss, and you was right about the weed” ….
#shemakesme Make sure you join us on the 10th Septmeber 2018.