A few years ago, I became concerned about three children who lived close to me. The youngest, then aged around six, was often out with his older brothers until very late at night mid-week, sometimes without a shirt on even though it was winter.
In the end, I rang the police and social services. I was told that the family were ‘known’ to both the police and social services, and they would investigate immediately. I never saw the children out late at night again.
At no point did the police or social services tell me that I was interfering, or to mind my own business. Instead they were grateful for my call and reassured me that they would do everything they could to protect the children.
As a journalist, I’ve interviewed many grown women who have spent years – sometimes as many as 30 or 40 – trying to come to terms with the things that happened to them as kids and find the courage to tell their story. Without exception, they have told me that someone (usually a relative or the teachers at school) must have known what was going on, but no one stepped in to protect them.
Children who are too terrified to speak out, to tell us what is happening to them, need us to watch for signs – physical, emotional, behavioural – and take action on their behalf. And there are ALWAYS signs.
What makes me so cross about the revelations of the past few weeks is that there are so many people saying they didn’t know what was happening to these kids. But there will have been signs, if only the adults had looked.
They just didn’t want to see.