From crack addiction to waiting for dirty old men

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The Independent Online
"Lisa was such a vulnerable child. She was so easily led. If someone said they'd give her pounds 20 for doing something she'd do it." Lisa's mother had had her suspicions for some time that her 14-year-old daughter was involved in drugs and prostitution but was powerless: "You can't lock a 14-year-old in the house."

Her daughter explains how she got caught up: "When I used to do draw [marijuana] with my boyfriend, he'd lace it with crack and I got so addicted I'd do anything to get it. He gave me a couple of shots free but then he said I had to earn it."

"I went out robbing first but that got difficult. I didn't want to go on the game but I was scared of him. He'd beat me up and put me in hospital. And I was only bothered about the crack."

Lisa used to stand on the corner waiting for "dirty old men". Her self- esteem plummeted: "I lost weight and didn't really care about my appearance. Before that every hair on my head had to be perfect."

Her mother meanwhile was "tearing [her] hair out". "When my friend told me she saw Lisa getting in cars I didn't want to believe it. I wanted to close my ears." She asked social services "to lock her daughter up for her own safety" but to begin with they refused to listen.

"Social services said 'have you got proof?'. I said, 'do you want me to get in the car with her?'." Lisa's mother estimates it took two months before she persuaded social services of the "moral danger" her daughter was in.

But that was not the end. Lisa ran into trouble at the home she was placed in, including a severe beating at the hands of three girls who found out about her past: "They dragged me out of bed by my hair and started shouting 'slag'," she said.

Social services wanted her to go to another member of her family: "But I didn't want all the family knowing about Lisa and her past," said her mother. "You're close to some people but not to others."

She ended up at home, terrified her ex-boyfriend would find her and beat her up again.

Her mother has nothing but contempt for the way the police handled the assault on Lisa: "The police wouldn't take the assault on Lisa seriously; they tried to say it was just a bitchy argument. They saw her as a prostitute."

But then she is not surprised: "You can see from our window all the girls and the pimps and drug dealers. You can tell some of the girls don't want to be there and the police aren't there to help them. It's heartbreaking, they look as young as 10. And the police just go past them with a loud hailer saying 'clear it up girls'."

Lisa, now treated by a counsellor, agrees: "I see the pimps now and think, 'how can they do that?'. And then I look at the girls and think, 'did I look like that?'. And I know I did but my mum never gave up on me. Not everyone's that lucky."