I don’t have any nice childhood memories involving my mother.
All I remember are the beatings and humiliations and the way she did everything she could think of to isolate me from the rest of my family, including banishing me to my bedroom for hours at a time. I couldn’t sit on the bed in case I creased the duvet cover, and I wasn’t allowed to play with the few toys Mum arranged strategically on the shelves so that she’d know immediately if I’d disobeyed her. So I’d just sit on the floor on my own, eating the meals she brought up for me and listening to my brothers laughing and watching TV with my parents in the room below.
By the time I showed a teacher at school some of the bruises that always covered my body as a result of my mother’s slaps, kicks and punches, I believed it really was my fault Mum didn’t love me. What Mum also eventually made me believe was that my dad, who never hit me and was sometimes kind to me, was going to sexually abuse me. So I was relieved to be taken into care when I was 13, even though I was going to be living in a children’s home rather than with foster parents, as I’d hoped.
My first impression of Denver House was that it looked more like a run-down office building than a ‘home’.
Until the day the social worker took me to live at Denver House*, I thought I’d be safer living anywhere than in my own home. But it turned out I was wrong, and that being physically and mentally abused by my own mother wasn’t, after all, the worst possible thing that could happen to me.
My first impression of Denver House was that it looked more like a run-down office building than a ‘home’, and I was intimidated by the loud confidence of all the other kids who pushed and shoved each other in the corridor outside the office as they tried to catch a glimpse of the new girl. But no one really bothered me after I stood up for myself when a boy tried to bully me a couple of days later. Then, after I’d been there for about three weeks, an older girl called Abbie asked if I wanted to go to a party with her, and I thought I’d found a friend at last.
There were three men in the car that picked us up outside the children’s home. But there was no party at the house they drove us to. It took a while for the penny to drop and for me to realise why, later that night, one of the men had given Abbie some money just before he phoned for a taxi to take us back to Denver House.
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Despite Abbie threatening ‘serious consequences’ if I told anyone about the unimaginably horrible things that had been done to me that night, I did tell my social worker the next morning. At first, I didn’t think she’d understood what I tried to explain to her. Then she took me to a family-planning clinic where I was given a morning-after pill, a bag of condoms and a prescription for a contraceptive, and I realised that, for some reason I didn’t understand, what had happened to me didn’t really matter.
I spent just over a year at Denver House, being trafficked around my hometown and further afield, and although I often asked the staff there for help, no one - not even the police officers who sometimes picked me up from some dismal house and took me back to the children’s home - ever did anything to make it stop. So, in the end, I ran away and ended up living at home again, where I continued to be trafficked for a while, and where my mother continued to abuse, manipulate and blame me for everything that was wrong in her own life.
Then, one day, after I threatened to kill myself, I was taken to see a psychiatrist, who, after asking me some questions, said that the solution to my depression was for me to be removed from the situation that was causing it.
I had started drinking before I was given vodka by the men who trafficked me from Denver House, and by the time I finally got my wish and went to live in a foster home, I was reliant on alcohol to get me through every miserable, hopeless day. But that caused problems of its own, because it made me even more vulnerable than I might otherwise have been. Then, when the placement broke down, I went to live in another children’s home for a year or so, until I was 18, which is when social services found a flat for me to live in on my own, then washed their hands of me.
None of the people who should have been caring for me for the first 18 years of my life had done anything to protect me, or even to teach me how to fend for myself. But after some more horrible experiences, including my father’s death and some shocking revelations by my mother, I began to realise that if I didn’t start taking responsibility for myself, it would soon be too late for me to do anything to try to fix my life. So I got a job in a warehouse, started exercising, cut back on the drinking and, after wishing many, many times that I was dead, finally knew what it felt like to be happy to be alive. Then, one day, I saw a poster advertising boxing classes and decided to call in at the gym on my way home and find out more.
I was 21-years-old when I went to a free trial session at a boxing gym, discovered that I had an aptitude for boxing and was offered the chance of being trained with a view to, possibly, becoming a professional.
For a while, everything went really well, until I was derailed by a bad relationship and started drinking again. And that might have been the end of my story if I hadn’t been lucky enough to meet the person who is now my best friend and mentor. It was Pam who encouraged me to apply for my Social Service files, which I read with a mixture of shock, distress and anger. And it was Pam who found the solicitor who took up my case and recently won me an out-of-court settlement against my local social services.
I’m enjoying finally being able to live the life I have chosen to live, among people who support and care about me.
I started training again about a year ago, and just after I sent my book, Trafficked Girl, to the publisher, I qualified as a boxing coach and personal trainer. For years, I expected to die - at my own hand or at someone else’s - before I reached my twenties. I’m 30 now, and I have just set up my own business running exercise and other programmes based on the principles of boxing training for women who have had traumatic experiences and want to change the course of their lives, as I have done.
I found it very hard to learn to accept the fact that I wasn’t to blame for what happened to me, not least because I had been told by my mother for as long as I could remember that everything bad was my fault. But although I still have a lot of nightmares and my weekly therapy session often leaves me feeling mentally battered and a bit depressed, I haven’t had a drink for more than eight months now, and I no longer feel the sense of crushing loneliness that used to make me wonder why I was even bothering to try to get through another miserable, pointless day.
I do a boxing class for kids at the gym three times a week, plus several sessions of one-to-one coaching for both adults and kids. Some of the children I work with are being bullied, some just want to get fit, and some are brought to the gym by parents who want to help them feel good about themselves. Whatever their reason for coming, I try to make the classes fun, and in return I get the huge reward of seeing them grow in confidence week by week.
I’m also training five or six times a week, running and at the gym, with the hope of being able to box on an amateur level, or maybe even professionally. In the meantime, I’m enjoying finally being able to live the life I have chosen to live, among people who support and care about me.
*Details have been changed to protect the author’s anonymity.
Trafficked Girl is out now, published by Harper Collins.
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