Ok, two warnings before I share this story. The first is – this isn’t a pretty one. So you might want to make sure you’re in a safe place before you read it. The other is to say that I’m sharing this with permission, but the names are changed. You’ll see why as I write. Some people who know me may recognise the person I’m talking about – if so, please, please don’t share names, k?
I first met Jessie when she was 7. She was a bright and bubbly little girl – a never ending bubble of energy. She was always skipping or running or bouncing about – the 7 year old definition in person of perpetual motion.
And then. One day. It stopped.
And her light just – dimmed. She stopped skipping about and asking questions and jumping about. She stopped smiling and giggling and talking. A wide beam was replaced by a sad, scared little smile.
And of course we worried. We asked what was wrong, we spoke to her school, we asked her family. But it seemed like no-one could give us an answer. Until one day, in the middle of work, I got a phone call. It was from Jessie’s school.
Jessie had collapsed in a hysterical state at school. She wouldn’t tell anyone what was going on, but she’d asked for me. So I ran.
And in my head, I can still see, instant by instant, what happened next. as this brave, incredible young girl told the secret she had been keeping for so many years. That her step dad was hurting her, every, single, night, in ways that no child should ever be hurt.
She was beyond brave – she was incredible. Her actions saved her younger sisters from going through the same trauma, and meant that a truly despicable person couldn’t hurt anyone ever more. I’m not brave, and I’m 30.
The problem was that Jessie had been keeping this secret for so long. And when she let it go, her world broke around her. Her mother collapsed, she and her sisters were placed in foster care. It was scary and awful and horrible and for Jessie, it was All Her Fault.
And so I got another phone call. And this time I didn’t run. I couldn’t. I couldn’t move, couldn’t speak.
Jessie had hung herself. She was 11.
I’m sorry if you’re reading this and you’re crying now. For those who can identify all too well with Jessie, I’m especially sorry. Please, please know how loved you are.
But here’s the thing. We can’t change what happened for Jessie. We can change it for other children.
We can watch out for the signs, and educate our children that some secrets should never be kept. We can support organisations like Childline, bringing help to children in the most desperate of circumstances. We can lobby our MP’s to make sure that our society supports the most vulnerable of children.
What we can’t do is nothing. Because then we tell children that the lies are right. That they don’t matter. That we don’t care.
Please don’t let children believe that.