'I felt alone, dirty and guilty'
Every now and then television exerts its power to help bring about important reforms. Peter Kosminsky's drama documentary, No Child of Mine, is a classic candidate. The subject matter is child sexual abuse.
A little girl is abused at home by her mother and stepfather from the age of 10. Her father then hires her out for sex. A care order is made. She is then raped by a residential social worker and used by a pimp. She saves money from prostitution in order to run away to a child refuge (or "safe haven" under the terms of the Children's Act 1989) where she finally gets some help.
The story is not fictitious. "Kerry", now at university, wrote to the film-maker when he was researching the subject of child abuse, asking for nothing more than anonymity and the chance to prevent other children from suffering as she had.
Kosminsky made the film in an angry response to her case. "I was appalled by the conveyor-belt aspect of child abuse," he says. "Children can be abused at home, taken into care, then abused and lured into prostitution while in care."
A pivotal role in the drama is played by the teacher, as the only person offering Kerry pastoral support. He alerts the social services, although, in Kerry's case, the abuse did not stop there.
The real Kerry now says, "When I was being abused I felt so alone, dirty and guilty. When I finally got the courage to tell and was met with disbelief, I still felt alone, dirty and guilty. If someone says they are being abused, professionals, family and friends must listen, hear and support the survivor. "
Following the Children's Society report on the growing problem of child prostitution in Britain's cities, legislation to ease prosecution and increase prison sentences for pimps and child abusers is on its way.
The society, whose work includes helping young runaways, fully endorsed Kosminsky's film, a spokesman says: "What is startling about these young people's stories - and Kerry's in particular - is that again and again we see opportunities where something could have been done to help but wasn't. This should not be a debate about censorship. The point is that this abuse is happening in life."
These sentiments were echoed by the many child agencies who advised during the programme's production, including Kidscape, Barnardos and Childline.
In casting the film, Kosminsky was determined that the child actor playing Kerry should be emotionally mature and have the benefit of a strong supportive family. He chose Brooke Kinsella, whose mother was on set throughout the filming.
She says, "We sat down and read the script together. We were shocked that such awful things had all happened to one child. Then we discussed it and decided that if Brooke wanted to go for it, we would support her all the way." Brooke already knew about sexual abuse since a schoolfriend had told her that she had experienced it.
"I decided that I would like to have a go at playing Kerry," Brooke Kinsella says. "One of the main reasons for my decision was that the film might help other children in situations like hers. If it helped just one, it would have been worthwhile."
Meridian TV has sponsored the publication of materials listing agencies which help those who are victims of abuse. Details: PO Box 900, Southampton, Hants SO14 0HT. Tel: 01703 712101