‘It was utterly devastating and cruel what happened at Shirley Oaks’ – child abuse survivor Emma Lewis on the aftermath of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse

Emma Lewis, a survivor of abuse, is a member of the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Here she talks about the child sexual and

physical abuse which readers may find distressing. Please
visit the support pages if you would like help: https://www.iicsa.org.uk/help-and-support-0

“For every smile Lambeth took from me, I have made sure I have
given a smile to someone else.”

These words are from a witness during the Independent Inquiry into Child
Sexual Abuse’s Lambeth council hearings.
It was someone who may have every right to feel angry, betrayed and neglected but evidently has more care, kindness and compassion than those who were meant to keep her safe from the harm, suffering and abuse she endured.

I know that talking about child sexual abuse is still very much a taboo in today’s society. I
know many will skip past this without giving it a second thought, or maybe you did
give it a second thought, but then thought better of reading it in case it made you feel too
uncomfortable.

We need to confront the discomfort of the past; we need to shine a light into
the darkness – shine a light so bright that all of the failures lurking in the shadows are
exposed and we can prevent anything ever being hidden again.
I appreciate that after reading this, you’ll go back to doing the same things you do every day,
whether that be posting photos of your food, or day, uploading inspirational quotes or
sharing them with friends. I get it, I do it too. I love a good inspirational quote and
occasionally I have posted a photo of that curry I made. Anything to avoid the horror that goes
on in the world.
As a member of the Inquiry’s Victims & Survivor’s Consultative Panel and as someone who
grew up in care, I have been following the Inquiry’s hearing into children in the care of
Lambeth council – specifically hearings into children’s homes and foster
placements. I am an advocate and a campaigner for care-experienced young
people and through my volunteer work I try to ensure that the rights of young people in care reach a high standard, that all interaction with young people in care is centred around them.
Only a few days in and after reading the transcripts, I was horrified. I am devastated at the
harrowing and horrific experiences the children faced. They gave evidence about being
tortured physically, emotionally, psychologically, mentally and sexually. For me, it’s a read
that hits very close to home.
The horrors include a child as young as three being thrown into tables so ferociously that
their eye splits not once but twice. The same child had her hands bandaged up because of
nail biting, and locked away for hours on end, alone and in the dark absolutely terrified,
being drugged with sedatives. She had her beautiful hair cut short, simply because she took comfort in playing with it.
Whilst utterly devastating and cruel, this is sadly just a small part of the evidence she gave
about her experiences in Shirley Oaks Children’s Home; the darker and more sinister events
like the sexual abuse she and others experienced are a hard read. It is evident throughout that the resulting impact has stretched far into adulthood.
This is the evidence of one survivor, and devastatingly, there are so many more; their words
will stay with me forever. No survivor’s experience is worse than someone else’s. They are all
gut wrenchingly awful. They have had a profound effect on me, and will continue to do so.
Those children thought they were being rescued from a nightmare
they were born into through no fault of their own. They were abused and
neglected. They needed love and care, and felt comfort in the belief that it was coming – it
was going to rescue them.
Instead the Inquiry heard they were faced with sick, vile individuals who preyed on
them, who already thought they were damaged goods and they could do what they wanted
with these poor innocent children and it wouldn’t matter. They made those children think
no one cared and that they weren’t special enough to be saved.
I am angry. It is the worst kind of betrayal, to hope for a rescue, kindness, love and compassion and to be met
with torture, abuse and neglect, often far worse than you’ve been saved from.
Is it not enough to lose everything dear to you? Your identity? Your family? Your home?
Going into care strips you of everything you were. You are often built back up into someone
else’s version of who you should be, and conditioned to be grateful and thankful that
someone wants you. You try not make a fuss when things don’t feel right, because you already feel like you’re a burden.
You already feel lost and you already feel unsafe, but yet you try to survive because you
cannot bear to think that the next place you might move to will be worse.
Ultimately, all that children in care want is to go home. Many love their carers unconditionally and want the conditions of their care to improve.
But what they really want is Mum to stop drinking. They want Dad to stop being violent – and they want their brother
to stop making them do things that make them feel uncomfortable.
They just want to feel safe.
Children do often become weirdly resilient, and able to detach themselves from the horrors surrounding them.
They learn quickly and watch the warning signs and triggers and have learnt to adapt brilliantly,
adopting coping mechanisms to physically and emotionally remove themselves from those
dangerous and abusive situations.
So naturally, going into care you let your guard down. You’re no longer in flight or fight mode
because you’re exhausted.
But once you realise the horrors that await you, you’re broken beyond repair.
To those children who are now adults who were horrendously abused in children’s homes
and foster placements, I am so sorry you weren’t saved. I am so sorry you felt so unloved
and uncared for, I’m so sorry you weren’t listened to or able to speak up. I am so sorry there
was no rescue. It is completely unforgivable. I feel your anger, I feel your betrayal and I feel
the sense of hopelessness you must have felt.
As a fellow survivor and care leaver, I am listening. I do care and I stand side by side with
you, and I know your bravery in providing evidence during these hearings will make a
difference for future generations of children. For that I thank you from the bottom of my
heart. This can NEVER be repeated.

Further details of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse’ss Lambeth council: https://www.iicsa.org.uk/investigations/sexual-abuse-of-children-in-the-care-of-lambeth-council?tab=summary


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