No Toes and Crocodile Smiles

Sometimes she called me Pobble With No Toes 
from a poem 
I think 
by Edward Leah 
it made me giggle and wiggle my toes 
to check they were still there 

sometimes he called me Poppet 
with a wink and a crocodile smile 
he kept his teeth hidden 
hello Poppet 
I shot up to the sky 
my heart fell into my feet 

                                 Sophie Olson

Terms of endearment can be hard to trust when as a child, it was a front for child sexual abuse.

A hand on the top of my head, an arm around my shoulder, adjustment of school shirt collar, a hold of my hand as I crossed at the Green Man, or a guiding press on my back as I wobbled with precarious pride on two wheels, represented love or threat depending on who was offering it. This was confusing, but I knew instinctively I must react the same way regardless because The World around me was oblivious to the the man’s crocodile smile. They didn’t appear to understand the threat, they didn’t sense as I did, the menacing shift in atmosphere when he winked at me. They didn’t see a predator, they saw a good man. They misjudged evil as good. Dark as light.

Hasn’t he got a remarkable way with children?

Pobble made my body feel safe. Loved. Poppet turned it to jelly. It’s hard for me to describe the feeling. I would be frozen to the spot, feel burning fire in my arms and legs. I reacted the same way on the outside to both because what else could I do? He was the adult and I was a child. He was the cat. I was the mouse. Bad things might happen with one wrong move and so I did everything right. I looked at the floor. I smiled, I giggled, I said please, and thank you, hello, and I love you too. I held tightly to the offered hand. I kissed him back, I allowed him to hug me goodbye because… well I had to. Because abuse was in my family and there was no choice. Because of what a nice man he is. Because of, come on, do as you’re told.

It was exhausting to suppress gut instinct and live this way but I was a small child and there was no other way to live.

With mandatory reporting back in the news this week, we mustn’t forget the average age of disclosure is 24 years post the end of abuse (IICSA final report). So many children are missed, like I was, and I can see why. The topic of child sexual abuse is still highly taboo and this impacts on how we might open a conversation, or not, when we have concerns that something is wrong. So many hold misconceptions and have little understanding of the signs in the first place. Embedding lived experience into professional training and development goes a long way to dispel misconceptions about child sexual abuse, that otherwise provide an element of comfort. It opens conversations that some would prefer not to have. The Flying Child Project brings many different voices into our training, but we make it clear that even with these voices we can’t speak for all survivors. We can only ever speak from the perspective of ‘I’ so this exposure of professionals to many different voices needs to become a consistent way of learning and not a one-off ‘trauma-informed’ tick box exercise. We can’t give you all the answers but we can leave you with food for thought. We can encourage you to be a little more curious, a little more courageous. It is vital to have these conversations because until the focus shifts from ‘somewhere else’ and ‘other people’ to ‘us’ and ‘my community’ then not much will change.

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