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Hollie wants to say to social services ‘You failed me. Don’t fail others’

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Hollie was sadistically abused by her mother from as far back as she can remember, until she was in her mid-teens.

She relates a horrifying catalogue of cruelty and verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse that was overlooked by social services, teachers and many other adults.

Hollie shares her experience in the form of a letter to her mother, who she no longer sees. She grew up in the 1960s and 70s. 

She recalls being terrified of her violent and unpredictable mother. ‘My terror of you was so ingrained that you would only have to use a certain tone of voice and I would start shaking uncontrollably and wet myself in terror all the way throughout my childhood.’

Her mother habitually ranted about what an awful life she had, and blamed Hollie for supposedly being responsible for this – starting with her claim that Hollie’s father left them because Hollie was not a boy.

Hollie was frequently beaten, kicked, punched and slapped by her mother, and called ‘disgusting’, ‘ugly’ and ‘stupid’. Her father was Middle Eastern, and her mother used this as a reason to racially abuse her daughter. 

Hollie remembers that her mother usually drank half a bottle of spirits every night, and this made her even more violent. 

She was not allowed to have friends, and whenever she became attached to a toy, her mother would take it away. 

Hollie describes an incident when she was about five years old that she now understands was sexual abuse. She shared a bed with her mother, and her mother took off her pyjamas, positioned her daughter between her legs and used her as a masturbation aid.

Hollie remembers being naked and confused, and her mother making panting noises. ‘It felt like it would never stop’ she writes.

Hollie says that her mother usually did not inflict injuries on her that could be seen, but once she did go to school with marks on her face, and social services were contacted. She describes being questioned by a group of people, and says it was only when she became as frightened of them as she was of her mother, that she admitted her mother had hit her.

She recalls her terror when her mother collected her from school, and the beating she received later. 

Hollie says she can remember several visits from social services after that, but they never spoke to her alone and her mother presented herself as a loving parent. During one of these visits, Hollie describes being aware of ‘the alien feeling’ as her mother put her arm round her as ‘a false show of affection’.

She knows that for a time she was on the child protection register. They frequently moved house – she can count about 20 different places they lived in during her childhood. Hollie thinks this helped her mother to avoid the attention of social services but still feels she was let down by professionals who missed many signs of abuse and neglect.

Hollie also feels let down by staff at the various schools she attended. She went to school unkempt and extremely badly dressed. Her packed lunches were completely inadequate and her mother never attended important events. She sometimes stole money, had no friends and was bullied.

At secondary school, when she was getting changed for PE one day, she recalls ‘a sharp intake of breath’ as a teacher walked past and saw bruises on her back.

She comments on the ‘failure of social services and the schools I attended … I was the invisible child to everyone’.

Hollie adds that there were many other adults, including extended family and neighbours, who chose to ignore what was happening to her. She says ‘I was surrounded by people who didn’t want to get involved and make that call’.

The effects on Hollie of the pain, neglect, abuse and humiliation she endured in her childhood have been immense. She suffers with depression and has PTSD. She describes feeling ‘dehumanised, embarrassed, ashamed, ugly, self-conscious and worthless’. She says she can’t form relationships.

Hollie has a phobia of stairs, because her mother kicked her down flights so often, and disordered eating, because she was denied food. If people move their arms quickly when they are near her, she flinches.

Hollie has tried to access her social services file but was told it has been destroyed. 

Addressing the failings of social services, Hollie says that professionals should not take the child’s word for it if they say they are not being abused, especially if they are being questioned in front of someone. She says they should be alert to signs of abuse, including the obvious ones, like injury, but also other possible indications such as frequent house moves.

Hollie adds that social services should be aware that someone who is ‘well spoken, with a good job’ can also be a manipulative person who is an abuser.

It was when Hollie had her first child in her 20s that she began to realise the full extent of the abuse she had suffered. She began having counselling and has successfully raised her own children. She says ‘I gave them the normality of being a loving parent’. She has no contact with her mother.

She concludes ‘At least I can now say I’m finally being heard, and can now grieve for the person I might have been if I had not been a victim of child abuse’.

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