Child abuse: On the front line
October 25, 2009 / Timesonline
Kelly Murray is a 33-year-old NSPCC social worker, and mother, seconded to Ceop
“My initial perception of sexual child abuse was males touching girls, teenagers. I realised later it was so much more than that. It was awful. What we see is children being socialised into sexual abuse at a very young age, and they think it is normal. They are being groomed and believe this is what happens to other children. I was drawn to Ceop because I had always thought police officers need to have child-protection social workers and I wanted to be more victim-focused. In the victim ID team, if there is stuff I find hard to deal with, we talk it through. If I want to walk out because I cannot handle any more of it today, it’s okay. I am working on cases where teenage girls have exposed themselves on a webcam. They have met this guy online, who has pretended to be much younger. He has hundreds of images. We started seeing footage of one girl aged about nine, a video clip, which had been taken several years previously. She was now 13. We could date it because there was a competition playing on a radio in the background. She was being raped and you could tell it was not the first time. She was quite at ease with the camera, smiling for it. This material was being traded round a newsgroup. The guy was producing it for other people. This nine-year-old who was being abused was telling him where to put the camera. They were using her first name and even mentioned a town in the UK. Our biggest clue was a settee and a recliner. We were able to identify the manufacturer, who told us how many of that colour had been sold. Out of 20m households, only 156 had been sold. Only four had been sold in the area they mentioned. It was a huge team effort, but we cracked it. She is psychologically damaged. She is now in a therapeutic centre, but when we first identified her she had a terrible time, with five foster placements because of her behaviour, which was highly sexualised with very poor attachment to male carers. She is gradually opening up, but she is also self-harming. There have been suicide attempts, absconding and she has been found at sex offenders’ houses.
Her behaviour was typical of a child who had been sexually abused over a long time. My fear is this girl will move into prostitution. We also found video material of her when she was four. They were trying to get her to say swear words. She was so shy and would not say the F-word. The innocence was there. Then you think she has gone from that to where she is now, poor thing. Finding her was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. As a mother it can be very tough. You watch material where babies are screaming with pain. There are times when it gets to me and I just want to go home and cuddle my children.
We have a psychologist that we see every three months, but we can ring up and get an appointment any time. I would be lying if I said that I do not wake in the night and think about what I have seen. Sometimes when the kids are that young, when there are no clues and there is nothing we can do, you wake up with a sense of helplessness that you cannot rescue them.”
“Learning about child abuse is hard. What is particularly disturbing is when you find it is not just children being abused by their parents — the abuse sometimes continues into adulthood.
On a murder inquiry you cannot give a family’s loved one back. In a child-abuse inquiry, we are either preventing the abuse by removing the offender before they have offended, or we are actually getting an offender out of the family, and giving the child a better life.
We are dealing with this material day in and day out. It is horrific. It is as if you are going to a horrendous murder scene sometimes, and you see those images when you are there. It gets lodged in your memory. If there is film of a child being abused, and there is sound, it is not just the sound of a child screaming that haunts you. I remember once there was a video and there was a Christmas carol playing. I cannot hear that music and not associate it with the image of that child being abused.
We have got a young team here, mostly in their late twenties and early thirties, nice people, and we have a good team spirit. We work closely together on very difficult material to identify the suspect and get the intelligence out to the local police who will do the arrest. That is a job done, a good day. Sometimes we can do it very quickly. This is usually when the abuse is still current. We have on occasions identified someone within an hour.
Having a family of your own brings you back to reality — not everybody is bad. My worry is that there are people in this field who do not have a home life and have to go home with this crap. I don’t take it home. Everyone has their survival mechanisms; mine is when I go home. It is hard when you see something distressing. We keep an eye on our staff. Even reading the logs in chatrooms can be distressing when you see what these people say they want to do to a child. It becomes dehumanising when you are seeing children being tortured. I will not do this for much longer. You have to say to yourself, ‘I have done my bit, I need to move on.’”