“Are you the lady that fights for us”.
The story I said I would never tell.
A few years ago, I worked with a girl, we will call her Gemma.
When I met Gemma, she was 13 years old. She was in care, as were all her sisters and her mum still lived in the local area.
Gemma had gone onto care about 18 months before I met her. Her younger sister had disclosed that “Grandad” had been doing things to her, but also said “Not as bad as what happens to Gemma”.
What transpired was that the mother had been sexually abused since she was a child by her farther and his friends. Her own mum had known about it and done nothing to stop it. Fast forward a few years and the mother had several girls of her own, including Gemma.
Mum had continued to allow her farther to be part of her life, and her children’s, despite the history of abuse. Gemma’s sister disclosed that when they went to see Grandad ,all the girls (Not Gemma) were made to lay in a row and Grandad would inappositely touch them. Sometimes there were other men. Mum knew, according to the sister, but said that Grandad was not allowed to do anything “Bad” to the girls.
That was saved for Gemma.
Gemma, and only Gemma, was taken to her grandfathers every other weekend. Mum would drop her off Friday night and pick her up Sunday afternoon. Grandad paid mum £50 every other weekend to have Gemma stay over. During her weekends with Gemma, her grandfather would subject her to degrading and painful sexual acts. Eventually his friends were introduced and then there would be several men abusing her day and night. This had happened from when Gemma was about 6 until she was 11.
When I met Gemma, she was off the rails. She was running away from her placement often and smoking weed. She would not listen to anyone at school. I was asked to try and work with her and keep her in main stream education.
But here is the thing…how can I convince a child to go to maths when she keeps talking about how her mum “Pimped her out”?
I would say I am pretty hard core. I can take a lot. But from early on with Gemma I knew that I should pull away. I knew that her story could break me. But I couldn’t, because for the first time in a long time she had built a positive relationship with me and another member of staff. She was coming to us and telling us stuff. How could I just say…sorry love..too much for me. I couldn’t.
She would come and cry in my room. She would cry over and over about an incident that had happened the year before. She had run away and gone off to find mum. When she got to her mums flat a man answered, a man that Gemma didn’t know. He would not let Gemma in the flat but after a bit of pushing and shoving Gemma got in. She found mum in the bathroom, blood everywhere. Mum had tried to inject heroin, and something had gone very wrong.
Mum lived through the event (and continued to use). Gemma, however, relived the event over and over. She spoke about how her mums face looked when she had found her. The man stopping her getting into the flat had beaten mum so when Gemma saw mum in the bathroom, not only did she have a needle hanging out of her arm with blood everywhere, mums face was swollen and bruised.
Gemma’s behaviour got worse. She started hanging around with a group of girls that were high risk of CSE. The safeguarding lead and I must have raised our concerns a million times. We recorded, we reported, we begged to have her taken out of area.
Rumours started that she was visiting a man’s house and that he was giving her free weed and cigarettes. I sat with her so many times and said there was no such thing as free weed and cigarettes and she would cry but say nothing.
She started to change. She always wore makeup and hair and nails done. Now she wore no makeup and looked grubby. She no longer cared how she looked.
Her friends came and told me that the man she was seeing was her grandad. Not “That” grandad. A different one. They said that she would go into the house for a bit and come out with drugs and money.
All we had was a first name and an area. The safeguarding lead and I gave this info to any one who would listen. We had staff go down to the road we believed that Gemma was in and they walked around looking for her.
Gemma was hardly in school anymore. But when she was it was a nightmare. She was now very angry and would become aggressive to staff. Then she would end up crying her eyes out in my room. I found myself becoming drained when she was in school. When I knew she was in and I would have to gear myself up for her eventually coming to me, breaking down and telling me yet another horrific account of what used to happen to her as child. I would report each thing she would tell me to the relevant services. I would then spend hours going over it with my safeguarding lead, trying to make some kind of sense of what this girl was going through. But over time I found that I no longer spoke about it. I would listen to her, comfort her, and then report it. But then that would be it. I would not off load it anywhere anymore. I can’t tell you why. I think I could no longer speak about the rape and abuse of this child. I didn’t want to go over what she had said. I would report it. Of course, but I found that I no longer spoke about it after that.
She used to ask me daily why her. Why did her mum only sell her and not the others?
She was so protective over her sisters, even though they were all in different care placements. She told me once that her younger sister was sent with her to grandads one weekend. That mum had pulled up in the car and instead of just sending Gemma in she told her little sister to get out as well. Gemma said that her little sister looked so scared. That her little sister knew that bad stuff happened to Gemma. Gemma said to her mum no. That the little one would not some in as well and that she would go in on her own. Gemma said mum huffed and said “Fine, I will do it then” and left the younger sister crying in the car and went into grandads with Gemma. Mum stayed for an hour and completed the job that she had expected her 6-year-old daughter to complete who was now crying in the car. And then left Gemma there for the weekend.
So, one day, I spoke to Gemma and I said that I knew the man she was going to see was not her grandad and that she was not receiving anything for free. She said that she went there to move boxes for the man. I asked her to explain. She said that she had to move boxes around the flat and he paid her. I shock my head. I asked why she called him grandad. She put her head down and said that he made her. That she had too. I said that I could keep her safe. She said that if I got involved in her business would never speak to me again. She stormed out and I didn’t see her for a week.
I will always remember the next time I saw her. It was a Thursday and it was sunny, it was about 11. She came to my door with two of her friends and they walked in without knocking. I just looked at them, they were usually all very noisy and rude …and usually stoned. Today all 3 girls were stone cold sober and sober. I could feel the heaviness in the room. Gemma said that she wanted to show me something, but she was worried I would think she was a slag. I assured her I would never think that.
She placed her phone on the table and told me to press play on a video link that was on the screen. I did. It was a phone conversation that she had recorded between her and this man. She was calling him grandad the whole time.
She was asking him to stop touching her and if he did it again, she would tell. He was saying ok..fine..but there would be no more money or fags. He then said that he would have to start asking her little sister to come around and “Move boxes”, Gemma stated to cry and said no, she would come, to forget this conversation.
When the clip stops, I looked at her and went to speak. She shakes her head and swiped the phone to the next video and pressed play.
This was another video of Gemma and the man in a car. She is crying and asking to get out. He is saying no. That he dropped her friends’ home and she needed to keep him company. Up until this point I had no idea how old this man was. But suddenly you could hear the age in his voice. The video shifted, Gemma had the phone in her hands when recording, and she had moved it so that now instead of black and the audio…I could see him. He was about 50-60 years of age and was quite over weight. He had greasy black hair combed across his head and had stubble. He looked dirty.
She was asking to get out the car and he was saying no. She was crying, and she said that she had her period so couldn’t stay with him. He said she was lying, and he wanted to see proof. She was saying “Errrrr” and “Yuk” and that she would not show him. He said, “Well I tell you what young lady you won’t be getting out this car until I check”. Like a parent telling their child they would not leave the table until they had eaten their dinner. She started crying and there was a scuffle when he is trying to pull down her jeans. She is screeching, and he is breathless and telling her to shut up. Suddenly you hear like a bang and then “Fuck of you perv” being shouted. The man shouts something and then there is the sound of running.
The two girls sitting in my room with Gemma, aged 13 and 14..they had hidden when the man had dropped them off. Gemma had told them where he usually took her, and the two girls made their way to the place. When they arrived, they saw the commotion in the car and the girls…the two amazing girls. They opened the door and set her free. And they all ran away. They had saved her.
I didn’t know what to say. My eyes were ready to go. But then Gemma said, “One more”. She swiped the videos the other way. To the one recorded BEFORE the ones I had just listened to. I only allowed her to play 30 seconds of it. I could only take 30 seconds of seeing her being rapped. I didn’t know what it was when she pressed play. I had to pick the phone up and turn it around. I thought it was a fight.
Of course, it was all dealt with. He went to prison. I don’t know how long for. One of the girls that saved her, she was in lots of trouble before and after and within weeks was no longer in main stream education.
Gemma was exploited again, by others and was moved out of area. It happed all of a sudden and I didn’t get to say goodbye.
I started to dream about the things she had said to me and what I had been told. I could never get the audio of the last clip out of my head. It was just appearing in my head throughout the day.
I become unwell. Very unwell. And then I snapped. Just like that. I found a dark place that I didn’t know existed. I was off work for weeks.
Work eventually got me counselling and boy…did some of my own demons come to hunt me during those sessions. I decided that I didn’t want to work in this sector anymore. I said I was leaving and handed in my notice. I had no job to go to and didn’t care.
About 2 weeks before I was due to leave, I was given a case. No…. that’s a lie…no one gave me cases anymore. I just sat in my office sorting paperwork and avoiding humans. A girl appeared at my door. She hovered and asked to come in. I just nodded. She sat on the chair, chewing her nails. She had a black eye and love bites all over her neck She looked so young and so lost. I asked her to go and find someone from safeguarding if she needed to talk.
She said, “Are you the lady that fights for us”. I just looked at her. “Annie told me to come here, she said you’re the lady who fights for us”. I said “No, that’s not me”. She stared at me with her big blue eyes. I could see her story already. I could feel her pain. I could have told you what had happen to her without her saying much. I knew she could see me too. See that my eyes told the same story. She put both her hands under her thighs , sitting on her hands. It was like she didn’t hear a word I was saying. She started to tell me some of the stuff that was happening to her. At first I just said that she had to leave. But she kept on talking. Then she asked if I knew a man she was talking about, if I had heard of him. I nodded and automatically reached for my pen. Started making notes. Identified the male that had given her the black eye. Worked out just how many men had given her the love bites. We made a plane, me, and her, on how we were going to keep her safe. I contacted social services and started discussing what we would be doing next, The social worker knew me and said “Have you been on holiday, we were just saying the other day no one had heard from Kendra”. I said that I had been away. But I was back now.
A week later there is a meeting with the girl and supporting agencies. I walked into a room full of professionals, feeling out of place and out of touch. I sit down, and the chair of the meeting says to me “And you are?”, poised with pen to add me to the plan and the girl, who is swinging in her chair, not engaging at all says very loudly….
“That’s Kendra, she’s the one that fights for us”.
And I will. And I do. And I will never give up until there are no more Gemma’s.