The catalyst for me leaving home when I was just 15 was an argument with my step-father, and a punch in the face that nearly broke my nose. I came back to London with just £50 in my pocket, and slept between the cot and bunk beds on my cousins floor in my aunt’s tiny two bed maisonette.
It wasn’t ideal, but I was as safe as I could be under the circumstances. After living there for about six months, I moved in with my first boyfriend and his family. Again not ideal, but at least I was safe.
My first job was working as a waitress in a grimy market caff, and after this I graduated to an independent home wares shop (now known as the 99p store). The owners mainly employed under age staff, and would regularly get us absolutely smashed-drunk and try to take advantage of us. I know a handful of girls who lost their virginity in pub toilets to these guys. Fortunately I managed to dodge this particular ball somehow. Not quite sure how.
By the time my ‘first love’ and I parted ways I had managed to blag my way into a job in a department store, and was legally working. This meant I could afford to move into a house share, and it was there that I met some of the people who changed my life.
After all, if we are surrounded by older men getting young girls wasted and shagging them in toilets, this becomes our norm doesn’t it?
I’ve often wondered how differently things could have panned out, and feel fortunate that it went the way it did. My young life was not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it could have been a lot worse than it was. Which is why I’m getting behind the Seriously Awkward campaign by The Children’s Society.
“What is Seriously Awkward?
Seriously Awkward is our priority campaign to protect 16 and 17 year olds from harm, abuse and neglect. As older teenagers, they are often overlooked or seen as ‘beyond help’. The most vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds are often in grave danger, facing hidden harm. They are more likely to go missing or be victims of violent crime than any other age. They are a high risk group for domestic violence and sexual exploitation. Yet they are the least protected from abuse and neglect in law, and get much less support than younger children.
The Children’s Society is asking the Government to change the law to protect 16 and 17 year olds from abuse and neglect. We are also calling for more support for teenagers at this age and for them to be more involved in the decisions that affect their lives. We want as many people as possible to sign our petition, and help encourage others to sign this. Our campaign is based on the challenges we see teenagers facing in our projects across the country as well as extensive research.
You can read the full report and stories about some of the young people we work with here.
Some Seriously Awkward Findings
Here are some of the most interesting findings from our research report. We want to challenge the perception of teenagers as resilient or streetwise, and lift the lid on how many teenagers feel – especially those most at risk:
● The majority of parents feel life is harder today for teenagers than when they were young.
● One in three 16 and 17 year olds has faced sleepless nights due to worry in the last year.
● One in three 16 and 17 year olds frequently feel anxious and a quarter frequently feel sad.
● One in ten 16 and 17 year olds admit they feel pressure to do things that could leave them at risk such as taking drugs, drinking alcohol or spending time with people they don’t feel comfortable with.
● 70% of this age group do not describes themselves as ‘streetwise’
● Two thirds of 16 and 17 year olds feel judged just for being a teenager.
● The Children’s Society estimate that half a million 16 and 17 year olds in the UK face particular risk of harm because they are already dealing with issues such as poverty, poor health or a lack of supportive relationships.
● A teenager has to be under 16 to be protected by laws on child cruelty and neglect.
● Three quarters of parents believe 16 and 17 year olds are still children and should be protected from harm – but the law is dangerously inconsistent in this area.”