'I knew he shouldn't be doing it, but I was frightened'

30th September 2005 at 01:00
For victims of sex abuse, there appears to be no way out. Su Clark talks to two young men who were exploited by people they trusted - one when he was only 5 - and previews a new resource for schools to offer support

"It was the dark that was worse. I'd hear him whispering my name but I didn't know where he was or what part of the room he was in. I'd lie there pretending to be asleep, terrified, not knowing if he was going to come over to me or go away. I was so frightened."

Talking about his first experience of sexual interference, 19-year-old Marcus is pale and nervous. He fidgets constantly, pulling at the crease in his jeans or the collar of his T-shirt. Despite being studiously sprawled in his seat to look carefree, it is clear from the way he talks about the events of 14 years ago, he'll never be rid of the images. He is almost clinical as he describes the first time his babysitter's 15-year-old son attacked him. How it went from game-playing, to touching, to worse.

"I was crying so much. I knew it was wrong and he shouldn't be doing it, but I was frightened. I thought he was going to hit me," Marcus says quietly, looking intently to make sure everyone present understands the agonies he was in. "He told me that I mustn't say anything to anyone, that they wouldn't believe me. That they'd say it was my fault."

When it did come out into the open, the treatment Marcus received made him feel even worse. Through his tears, he had to endure forceful questioning that was almost as traumatic as the exploitation he'd suffered. The attacks did stop, but the nightmare didn't.

Feeling dirty, defiled and abandoned, Marcus stole his mother's medication, took the pills and then tried to hang himself with a tie. He was five years old. Fortunately for Marcus, his sister found him hanging in a cupboard.

She was the first person to save his life; the second was the Barnardo's Scotland worker to whom he was referred.

The numbers of children or young people who are being sexually exploited in Scotland is unknown. Sexual exploitation is not one of the specific grounds for referral to the Children's Reporter, nor is there a specific referral of youngsters to the children's hearing system if they are being, or at risk of being, sexually exploited.

"It is a small but highly significant problem that we have to address to help protect these young people," says Jim Wallace, assistant director of Barnardo's Scotland.

Last year in its campaign on child prostitution, Barnardo's called upon the Government to investigate the problem, but still no clear statistics are available. The charity is not the only organisation to be convinced it is a growing problem, partly because the internet has made it easier. In 1999, Copine (Combating Paedophile Information Networks in Europe) identified an average of four new children a month appearing in child sex newsgroups. By 2002 over a six-week period from August to mid-September, it identified 20 new children. During the same six-week period, more than 140,000 child sex images were posted to newsgroups, of which 35,000 were images of new children. The children appear to be becoming younger and the settings of a more domestic or family nature.

The growing threat to children makes it imperative that schools have the skills to recognise and deal with suspected or disclosed incidents of abuse and exploitation. Every school should have child-protection protocol in place and every teacher should be trained on how to cope with the problem.

The next step is getting young people to talk about it and to recognise the risks.

Sitting in the same room is Andrew. Andrew's attacker was someone he should have been able to trust, someone who had looked after him as a child and brought him up. But when his stepfather split up from his mother and moved out, Andrew found the help he offered was used against him.

"My stepdad is an alcoholic, so I used to go round to help him, get his shopping and tea and that sort of thing," he explains. "He let me drink with him, so soon I was spending all day round there with him and his mates getting drunk. I just stopped going to school. I've never been back. I was 13."

Next, Andrew's stepfather was offering him his medication. Drunk, spaced out through the drugs, and relaxed because he felt secure in his stepfather's home, Andrew was highly vulnerable.

"I was in bed and my stepdad's mate came through and started talking to me.

Then he got into the bed," he says.

Afterwards Andrew felt scared and depressed, but guilty too. He was persuaded not to tell anyone by threats.

"He said everyone would think it was my fault and that I'd get into trouble."

Over the next five months, Andrew's situation degenerated as more adults became involved, but he found himself incapable, through fear, guilt and disgust, of extricating himself. It was only when his mother came round to his stepfather's and found him unconscious on drugs, that his nightmare came to an end.

But the experience has left Andrew scarred. He has suffered mental health problems since, including self-harming, and he is still drinking.

Both Marcus and Andrew have been helped by Face (Fight Against Child Exploitation), a group formed in Dundee with the support of Barnardo's Scotland, the council and the WEB Project, to help children and young people who have been victims of or are at risk of sexual exploitation. Face is about giving those involved space to explore and understand their experiences, and opportunities to develop ways of helping other young people avoid similar threats.

The help Face has given them they now want to repay. Both are looking to help other young people and next month they will have the pleasure of seeing a new resource they helped create launched to schools and other agencies which work with vulnerable young people.

Nae Danger is a film about the experiences of a young woman in their group who was groomed for prostitution by an adult she met at her local youth club when she was 12 years old. Animated with modelling clay figures, to retain anonymity, and accompanied by a collection of games, worksheets and activities to engage an entire class, it is colourful yet shocking. But it is also well designed to fit into a class structure.

The film has breaks in it at crucial points to allow the teacher to pause and invite questions or comments. The remainder of the resource pack comprises worksheets and games, such as the Face Exploitation Game, a board game with questions and scenario cards that prompt specific discussions, such as What is cybersex and is it legal? It has been designed so that classes can work through each activity in small groups.

Over the past month, Nae Danger has been piloted in Dundee, and in two schools in Fife, and has had teachers phoning up their colleagues at 10pm to discuss its quality and usefulness.

"We need to cover this in PSE (personal and social education) but we didn't have an appropriate resource until now," says Helen Jack, principal teacher of guidance and English teacher at Craigie High in Dundee, who has been part of the pilot.

"This is perfect. It raises questions and promotes discussion, while at the same time holding young people's attention."

Most of the schools in the pilot decided to target their S2 classes, who were mature enough to absorb the upsetting message but young enough to be one of the most vulnerable groups.

"We have created a film and resource for primary schools, but it still needs work done, as the target group is younger," adds Mr Wallace.

Mrs Jack estimates that it takes at least two sessions to work through all the issues raised, but she warns schools have to ensure that they have the systems established to allow teachers to cope with any disclosures watching the film may prompt. At one school, a young lad burst into tears when watching it.

"He said he had stomach ache, but we are monitoring the situation and other agencies have been involved. You can't force the issue but you can keep an eye on the situation," says his PT teacher.

On October 21, Nae Danger will be launched at The Space in Dundee. Face and Barnardo's Scotland want as many teachers as possible to attend to see the resource before it is rolled out across Scotland. It could even find its way beyond, as it is already attracting interest from England and abroad.

Marcus, Andrew and other members of Face will be at the launch, and may also be involved in a mini-roadshow the charity is organising to keep the momentum up after the launch.

"We'd like to see every school and every local authority buy into this resource," says Emma Preston, development and marketing co-ordinator at Barnardo's Scotland.

For Marcus and Andrew the nightmare of exploitation is over, but both are left hurt and frustrated. None of their attackers was successfully prosecuted and, to this day, they remain free to continue abusing if given the opportunity. But Marcus and Andrew are putting aside their pain, and with others who have had similar experiences, are working to make it more difficult for these people to exploit the inexperience, guilt and fear of young people. Only then will children and young people be in nae danger.

The Nae Danger pack, comprising DVD, poster, general guidance notes, worksheets and five games, is expected to cost pound;150The launch is being held on October 21 at The Space, Dundee College, Kingsway Campus, Old Glamis Road, Dundee DD3 8LE. If you would like to attend, please contact Emma Preston, tel: 01382 432931 or emailemma.preston@barnardos.org.uk

What to look for

These are indicators that a child is being sexually abused.

* Persistent running away

* Having an older boyfriend

* Substance misuse, including alcohol

* Having more money than expected

* Less focused on studies

* Sudden change in behaviour

* Isolation from peers and family

* Truancy

In sexual exploitation there may also be physical indicators, such as love bites and tiredness, self-harming behaviours, pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

What should teachers do if they suspect a child is being exploited?

Sexual exploitation: involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, whether of not the child is aware of what is happening. If a child or young person discloses information that makes you suspect exploitation is going on, these gudelines should be followed.

* Listen carefully to the child. Reassure them that they are not to blame.

* Don't try to investigate or ask leading questions.

* Explain what you are going to do and this may mean having to tell someone else who can help him or her.

* Report your concerns to the designated child protection teacher or senior member of staff. Be specific. Explain what you are concerned about and why.

They will advise on the next steps, including talking to the parents.

* Maintain confidentiality.

* Record what the child has said or what you have observed. Include the child's name, age, ethnicity and any disability or special needs. Include dates, times, what you have observed and what the child has said to you.

* Try not to let your own feelings or shock show.

What should a teacher do if she feels the issue isn't being dealt with?

A teacher who is not the designated child protection specialist should not get involved in a child protection issue, once she has passed on her concerns. But if worries persist, a teacher may approach the designated teacher for updates or if she feels the designated person is not taking the matter further, with a senior colleague who can represent her views to the designated teacher. She can also approach the education and welfare officer for advice and guidance, or the designated education officer for child protection in the local authority or go directly to social services or the police.

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