THE SMITH FAMILY’S STORY
The Smith family’s (not their real name) living nightmare started when their youngest daughter was 14.
Having always been a loving and well-behaved child, Louise (again, not her real name) started to become withdrawn and secretive about where she was going and who she was with.
This was initially put down to family bereavement which had deeply affected Louise. However, unbeknown to her parents, Louise had also been spending hours online – talking to both local lads and much older men who she thought were her age.
Louise started to go missing for hours and then days on end. The situation quickly escalated to her distraught mum and dad getting calls from police stations across the country who had picked her up at train and bus stations after she had agreed to meet men that she had talked to online.
Louise’s behaviour and mental ill-health continued to decline with two suicide attempts and a complete breakdown in family communications.
The breaking point was when Louise announced she had gone to live with an older boy who she had met online and was known to the police as a drug user.
She refused to return home at first – convinced that this was a real relationship – but when she did, she finally disclosed that she had been raped.
However, this horrendous crime turned out to be the positive turning point in all their lives.
Mum said: “Our lovely daughter turned from being an angel into a rebellious and withdrawn teenager.
“It was all new to us and we didn’t know what to do or where to turn.
“When she came home and told us what had happened it was obviously horrendous but she realised that she needed support.
“A major part of that support was through Safe and Sound. They helped us realise that she or us were not to blame. She had been groomed and manipulated.”
Dad continued: “The turning point for us was when we started to really listen to what she told us and believing her instead of just blaming her.
“We now feel that we are all communicating better and we are proud of how she is getting on with her life and is back in college.”
Louise, now aged 17, said: “Everything started going wrong when my grandparents died. I was very unhappy and didn’t feel that I could talk to my mum and dad about how I was feeling so, instead, I looked for comfort from people online.
“I was bottling things up and didn’t realise the danger I was putting myself in by talking to and then meeting up with strangers.
“Safe and Sound helped me to see that I was not in health relationships and we talked through all sorts of things like grooming and consent.
“I am now in a much better place. I like going to college and want to go onto train to be a social worker so that I can help other people.”