Thorns Have Roses: A Valentine’s Day Prick.


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Prologue…

I remember that February the 14th…

I met Henry whilst walking to our local shop. He was driving and stopped by my side to ask for directions to a friend’s house. I remember being apprehensive about speaking to him, after all he was a stranger. The friend he was looking for turned out to be someone I knew, and I directed him to the address. The next time I saw Henry was at a family friend’s party. I went with my family, and when they wondered off to mingle, this tall dark man walked up to me, and thanked me for guiding him when he lost his way. He asked what my name was, which I told him. He said ‘Maria’ was a beautiful name. That pleased me considering that I hated my name.

I can’t remember how things evolved from there, but my relationship with Henry will turn out to be the most memorable aspect of my life. He showed me love like no other. I had fallen out with my best friend, and Henry was there to listen. We chatted on Facebook a lot. He paid me lots of attention. He even bought me a phone that was exclusively for communicating with him. He was the only one who knew the number, and he rang and texted me several times a day. I was his “special girl” and he became my world. He showered me with gifts. I was the envy of my friends. They all wanted to meet this charmer who had swept me off my feet. I really wanted to tell them about Henry, but he said that it was best to keep our relationship a secret in order not to attract unwanted jealousy.

Then, on Valentine’s Day of that year, I woke up feeling special. The day had come! Henry was going to prove his love for me. He was going to show me love in a special way. I got ready to meet up with the love of my life, humming round the house. He had booked a room in a hotel within a walking distance from my house. My parents had gone out, and I was home alone with my older sister. We weren’t getting along then, so she was relieved when I told her I was going out to see a friend living on the same street.

As promised, my boo was waiting by the hotel when I showed up. He smiled and held my hand and walked me through the hotel lobby to his room upstairs. I noticed that the lady who worked as the hotel receptionist was giving me curious looks. I attributed her glares to be sheer jealousy. Henry is gorgeous, and who wouldn’t want him? I recall walking into the hotel room he booked for us, and thinking I was loved. There were red roses everywhere. Petals were scattered on the bed and rose bunches beautifully displayed in vases. The day had come. Henry was going to prove his love to me. That magical moment he described had come…

How old were you then?

I was 13 and Henry was 35 years old.

Interlude

The Evil that is Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Maria was obviously a victim of CSE, but like other victims, she misconstrued it to be love. Henry groomed her with all the gifts and false love he showed her. He knew at thirteen and being a teenager, Maria was at that stage in her life where she was seeking her own independence, which is normal with teenagers. His ultimate goal was to rape her, and that was why he ensured their friendship was kept a secret. He bought a phone to exert the control he needed to exploit her. Some groomers even get their victims to send explicit pictures of themselves.

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) occurs when a child is sexually exploited for money, power or status. It is a hidden crime, and victims are usually not aware of it. They are tricked into into believing they’re in loving and consensual relationships. CSE normally starts with grooming, and this can be online or in person. The perpetrators lure their victims into trusting them, so the fact that they are being abused is lost on the children. The exploited children become so dependent on the abusers emotionally, that they keep what’s happening secret. Victims and abusers can be male or female.

Some of the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse are; self isolation, sudden fear of a person or the reluctance to socialise with them, inappropriate sexual behaviour. Children who are sexually abused may become promiscuous, use foul language and know adult information that are unexpected of them. They may also have physical symptoms such as anal or vaginal bruising; an unusual discharge; sexually transmitted infection (STI) and pregnancy. Conversely, grooming can be occurring when children become very secretive, including hiding their online activities, have gifts and possessions that you didn’t buy, and they can’t or won’t explain where they got them from. They may have much older friends, or have unexplained money at their disposal.

Epilogue

The ‘jealous’ woman at the reception rang the police to report that I was underage. Two burly policemen burst into our room. Events around me occurred in a blur. I was shocked when one of the them said that Henry was under arrest “for the rape and sexual assault of a child”. On hearing that, I went berserk. I heard myself screaming “I’m not a child! We love each other! He’s the love of my life! Tell them Henry!” No one seemed to hear me because everyone ignored me. Henry just stared at the floor, slowly shaking his head from side to side. I watched in despair as they led him in handcuffs to the waiting police van. When the doors shut, everything went dark…

Curtain Call

Oh! Please speak to children about grooming and CSE. Be like that lady at the hotel. It’s our responsibility to safeguard children. Seek help is you think you’re being groomed or sexually exploited. If you suspect someone you know is being groomed or sexually exploited, please speak to the police or someone about them.

Cut!!!

Info credits more on CSE can be found here.