A mum whose daughter is a victim of CSE talks honestly about her experience…
I still remember the night she went missing. I went to pick her up, and she wasn’t there. So I drove around, from place to place, until she finally showed up at around midnight.
That was in February. It was Easter before I found out that she had been sexually assaulted. She was only 13.
We were in the police station. I remember feeling so, so sad. This older man had decided that it was OK for him to have casual sex with my daughter, a child. He has no idea what he did to her, to us. He has no idea of the anger, the upset, the pain that he caused. My family was ripped apart.
What made it so much worse was the scrutiny. We were under investigation then, from police and social services who thought we were somehow to blame. I’m her mum and yet I was scrutinised as if I had committed the crime against her. My family was being pulled in different directions and I was drowning under the weight. I felt as though I had failed. Why couldn’t I have protected her from this?
I told a friend what had happened. She found Pace online and gave me the number to call. It was a relief to pick up the phone and talk about what I was going through. For the first time, I wasn’t being judged and it was a relief. They listened patiently as I talked about the blame, the guilt and the upset. They explained that this is what happens to a lot of parents whose children have experienced child sexual exploitation.
Not only did they listen, but they helped me understand what happens when a child is groomed. It allowed me to see that all the anger and the risky behaviour that my daughter was presenting was part of the CSE. If only the police and social services could have seen that too.
My family is still under scrutiny, even now. And it’s so wrong. Pace helped me to understand that with a lot of cases of CSE, the authorities use a child protection model when they actually need to be using the relational safeguarding model. This approach, it isn’t working. It doesn’t help anyone when the focus is on the families when it needs to be on the perpetrators. It’s like wearing the wrong pair of glasses – authorities can’t see what they should be looking at.
Understanding all of this – the grooming, the safeguarding – it gave me a voice. I felt like I could stand up to the police and social services then, that I wasn’t a victim or someone for them to point the finger at. And it helped me find the strength to pick up the pieces and support my family.
My daughter is back in the family home now, and we’re talking. It’s hard for both of us, but the more she talks the more we are able to put our lives back together. We can never go back to the family that we were, but we are moving forward. That man, he’s not going to take anything more from my family. I won’t let him ruin my daughter’s life, or destroy my family.
A few weeks ago the police told me that they weren’t going to prosecute him as it was ‘her word against his’ and anyway ‘she looks older than her age’. But no child under 16 can consent to sex, and I have challenged their decision and will continue to fight.
This world, it’s not the world that I grew up in. Our children face risks today that we could never have imagined. As parents, we know we are here to guide and protect our children. In the space of CSE, my view is that we need to step up and make a stand. We need to educate and equip ourselves so we can carry out our roles effectively.
It’s critical to understand the importance of lived experience and to share that and to also work with organisations like Pace and connect with other parents who can provide the support and the tools that can help families move on.
Despite everything, I am taking control of my life again. Despite everything, we as a family are creating new beginnings. This event was devastating but it will not define us.