Theme: We’re all using the same photo to fictionalize a backstory.
Disclaimer: the content of this post may be disturbing to some readers.
My girlfriend’s been having this recurring dream. It’s been going on ever since she took on a new caseload, a twelve year old girl, repeatedly forced to suck boys’ dicks in succession. Kids call it a line-up. Perhaps Emma shouldn’t tell me details but I’m her girlfriend and she needs to offload. The recession cuts in social work, in everything, but especially in her field means there is little in the way of real supervision. That’s why so many social workers burn out within five years. They call it compassion fatigue.
The night sweats started after the first conference – a meeting with everyone attached to the case, so the girl’s school, previous schools, social worker, senior social worker, police. Except the police didn’t show up due to existing demands on police time. Emma complained of a weird dream where she was having a wonderful time, and we were all together, having a barbecue, my parents and her parents and everyone was getting along. She said it felt so real and wonderful that she never wanted to leave.
My parents have always supported me being gay but her father can’t cope and her mother is tied to her husband in ways Emma can’t grasp. Ironically, Emma is more committed to the children in her life, despite them all being other people’s car crashes, than Emma’s mother is to her. And Emma is so sweet, so giving. I often feel like stone in compassion; a cliché, going to work as a designer for a tech firm in Old Street. I see her pull on her same pair of jeans and look down at my sky blue brogues (I think I paid £340 for). I sometimes think why am I even styling my hair when Emma is going to see two sisters in absolute poverty, on the brink of a Child Protection Order due to their mother’s bipolar illness, meaning her flat turns periodically to squalor?
So Emma’s in this dreamy state, everyone is happy and getting along and then someone comes over and gently takes her by the arm, to have a quiet word. She’s not sure who this person is, a parent from past cases, a former colleague, who knows; they change with each recurring dream. The person asks her to look over her shoulder at our family gathering and as Emma does so, she is pushed forwards, falling from the sunny barbecue into a cold concrete room. The place is bare, except for a t-shaped white rug covered in dog hair and smelling of wet dog, which she recalls from a home she visits. The fun and games can be heard above but Emma is trapped. Nobody notices she’s gone. She can see the sunlight but the voices fade fast. A chain with a metal ring is lowered, and Emma fills with hope. But it’s greasy and she hasn’t the upper body strength to climb it. She wakes up, her body startled, dripping wet, and that’s when I wake too. In the still of our bedroom, she whispers that she fell again, her hands slipping from the greasy metal chain.
The case gets more complicated for this twelve year old. Older boys also force her to give them oral sex and rape her when she refuses, threatening to tell her family what she’s been doing. Police can’t do anything because she won’t give a statement against anyone. The place where it was happening has been sealed off. But how does this stop them doing it somewhere else?
Emma comes home with that look on her face. The police closed the investigation. Nothing criminal can happen. The boys haven’t be approached or talked to, protected by the fear of a minor not wanting to make an evidential statement.
Emma opens a bottle of gin. I rub her tensed shoulders but I’m not very good at massaging. She squeals in pain, admits this dream keeps coming up, where she’s pushed into a box, away from the blissful feelings. Now the kids she’s worked with are down there too. They sit in the corners, holding their knees, eyes wide, looking at her. Raped, beaten, neglected; mentally abused children, suffering the failures of equally broken parents. Emma finds herself looking at them, and then up at the sunlight, not knowing what to do next.
‘What does it mean?’ she asks me.
‘I don’t know. Maybe your subconscious is telling you, you can’t have it both ways. That your job can’t provide you with feelings of bliss.’
‘Do you feel bliss when you work?’
I think about this. ‘I wouldn’t call is bliss. I enjoy my day. I like leaving work knowing it’s neatly compact inside a computer file, only to be thought about when I leave the house tomorrow.’
Emma looks away. Tears fill her eyes. ‘I can’t give this girl what she needs, Jody.’
I put my arms around her. I know exactly what she means. ‘You can,’ I lie.
‘No. She needs constant love. She needs me to let her come here and sleep over in our spare room when things get too crazy with her mum and whichever man her mum’s fucking. She needs to be able to sit on our sofa and us all get takeaway instead of in stairwells where boys find her and force her to fuck them, offering her a bag of chips if she’s lucky. She’s twelve, for fuck’s sake! She needs my home number so she can call, whenever. Basically, all the things that I can’t do beacuse of Child Protection boundaries.’
‘She needs the police to turn up to conferences’, I counter-argue, ‘and be out there finding these boys and doing some real shaming to their parents. How can a group of boys want a blow job one after another from the same mouth?’
Emma covers her own mouth.
‘Without what you do for her, she’d be worse off.’ It’s all I can ever say, because it’s true. ‘You’re the one person fighting her corner.’
‘It’s not enough’, she snaps. ‘I’m losing faith in what I can do.’
And in that moment, Emma’s mother calls inviting us to a family barbecue.
If you have been affected by the theme of this post, contact the NSPCC, or to find out how you can help someone who have been sexually exploited, click here.