'The police didn't believe me' - Sheffield girl bravely shares experience of her sexual abuse and the centre that saved her

Tia shares her story. Picture posed by a model.
Tia shares her story. Picture posed by a model.

A specialised centre helping South Yorkshire children recover from the traumatic effects of sexual abuse is entering its' sixth year.

The Letting the Future In centre, run by the NSPCC and based in Sheffield, offers therapeutic support for abuse victims aged between four and 17 and also gives support to parents

Jess King and the Letting the NSPCC Future In Sheffield team

Jess King and the Letting the NSPCC Future In Sheffield team

With child sexual abuse in the spotlight more than ever, the charity also extends services to work in schools to spot the signs before problems develop.

One of the beneficiaries is Tia, from Sheffield. Sexually abused and later raped, she turned to a life of drugs. drinking and violence as a result of her trauma.

Her Dad, who was in and out of prison, started to sexually abuse her at the age of 13.

The abuse, which went on for around five months, prompted Tia to stay up all night and lock herself in the bathroom to avoid her dad.

Plucking up the courage to tell a friend, she decided to write down what had happened on a laptop for her mum to read.

But when her mum contacted police, officers 'accused Tia of lying' and said there 'wasn't enough evidence' which prompted the youngster to break down in floods of tears.

Tia's huge relief on telling someone about her abuse was short lived. Her mum had to sit at the end of her bed for a full year and talk to her until she fell asleep.

But the mental scars were deep and Tia turned to self-harm and she tried to kill her self three times aged just 13.

"I was referred to a mental health service for young people," she said.

"They did try to help me but it just wasn’t the right support. It was a scary place and they talked to me like I was a child. I remember going there and playing with a dolls house while my mum spoke to them. I refused to talk because they wanted me to speak about things at 13 when I didn’t have the words to express how I was feeling. Maybe it was because I didn’t want help at the time or I wasn’t ready for it."

By this point, Tia started misbehaving. She was drinking and smoking cannabis every day.

She started staying out overnight and sometimes didn’t go home for days or weeks. When she was 14, Tia recalls a night she went out with a group of people and bought a bottle of vodka and 20 cigarettes. She can remember lying on the grass drinking waking up later completely dazed.

But what happened next brought back her abuse nightmare.

"I met this guy I knew in the park. He took me to the back of this slide in the playground and raped me," Tia said.

"I remember screaming. It seemed to be over in 15 seconds but at the same time it felt like it had been going on forever. I was confused and still a bit drunk. I remember just crying afterwards. I was in a state. I got in the bath and scrubbed my skin to try and make myself feel clean.

"I’ve got blotches all over me from where I’ve ripped my skin off. I was blamed for what had happened and it was horrible. I was treated differently to other people and it made me blame myself for years."

After her mum moved away, Tia become homeless and spent 16 months living in a hostel with eight others which she described as a 'little family'.

"I started seeing a counsellor called Angela* from the NSPCC’s Letting the Future in service when I was 16. She was great and she changed my life. She just made me see everything differently, see myself differently. She helped me to start thinking of myself as a young woman who has the right to say no rather than a vulnerable little girl," Tia said.

But as she turned 17, Tia started to use cocaine heavily for 'two or three months' and she stopped going to Letting the Future In for a while.

"I was going out every night and going to college every day. My face was sunken from all the drugs and I was really skinny," she said.

"The hostel I was living in kicked me out because I was bending all the rules. It was my fault really. I was placed in a much bigger hostel where everyone was addicted to drugs or alcohol. I saw pregnant women getting beaten up there.

"There were so many times when something would switch in my head and I would get angry. I remember coming home covered in blood and I couldn’t remember why. The coke had turned me violent, towards men mostly.

"I started having house parties. I remember I attacked an older guy at one of these parties and I could have killed him. It really scared me and I never touched coke again after that.

Tia came off the drugs and looks back on that period in her life.

"I had so much guilt because I’d hurt so many people," she said.

"Angela made me realise that it was okay and that I wasn’t a bad person, I was just hurting. That really stuck with me, that people make mistakes and it doesn’t mean that you’re horrible."

Jess King is the service manager in Sheffield. She explains no case is ever the same.

Jess says: “For every child we start off by going to meet the child and their family at home, and we do an assessment at that stage to make sure we’re offering what’s right for the child. After that we invite them to visit us at our Sheffield centre and they have a look at the rooms and facilities.

“We let the child pick the room they like the most, and then we try to make sure they have that same room for the whole time they work with us. It makes them feel a little more comfortable as their surroundings become more familiar, and we also try to keep the sessions at the same time and day each week.

“The most important thing about this is that it gives them control over how we proceed. This is why we let them choose the room they want to use, but it’s also why we move at a pace they’re happy and comfortable with.

“There is no interrogation, and we don’t just sit there and ask them reams of questions. We don’t judge, or make assumptions, and we just let them decide how much they tell us and when. For children who have been in situations they have little or no control over, we prefer to let them talk about their experiences when they’re ready.”

*Names have been changed to protect identities.