Holding on – how I kept communication open with my sons

Holding on

My sons were targeted by criminals for the purpose of criminal exploitation and one of them for sexual exploitation when they were in their early teens. It was heart-breaking to see the change in them and to not only feel like you are losing your child, your family but to witness them losing themselves- their care and respect for who they are, for their interests and hobbies and even their own personalities.

My sons were terrified of speaking out about what was and is still happening because of the levels of violence they have witnessed, been threatened with and have experienced.

I don’t think I will ever fully know what they have gone through.

If criminal gangs feel that a child has ‘snitched’ on them, the child’s life can be in serious danger.

I decided that I needed to hold on to my children, however I could, no matter what. I wanted to be someone that they could still talk to; a person that they could keep a bond with. As a parent you have anxieties and fears and anger about what is going on, but if I wanted my children to keep taking to me I needed another approach.

I tried to be non-judgemental, listen and take it at their pace.

If I felt that they were getting agitated or my question had disturbed them, I’d back off. It’s really hard to do this when you have so many questions, but I felt as if this was the only way to keep any communication with them. To some degree, it worked. There are some things they still won’t talk about it, but we still have a relationship- it is not the one I imagined we’d have before all this started, but at least I still have some strand of connection with them.

The tip I’d offer to any parents trying to keep the communication open with their child, is when they do talk, be prepared.

There are things that you are going to hear that are really difficult and distressing. It helps to think about the kinds of support you have and how you can look after yourself whilst you’re carrying this.

Who is safe for you to talk to, what things can you do to look after yourself?

Despite the risks to my child I shared the information with the police and social services, building up a picture of the timelines, the networks of people involved, offences happening and places used. It felt as if I was feeding all this information in despite the risk of doing this simply for it to sit on services data bases. It made no difference to the safety of my family.

To anyone of you who share my experience I’d say, it can help to find the right person to share it with.

I’d been doing this for years and it wasn’t until Pace got involved that it started being fed through to key professionals and they started paying attention.

There still needs to be a better understanding by statutory services of the kinds of risks to criminally exploited children and how to support affected families. To all of the other parents experiencing this I’d say. ‘hold on.’