“That’s it!” Jake shouted. His face was red. “You don’t give a fuck about me!” The analogue clock on the wall showed 3pm. The maroon curtains had been opened and sunlight filtered through the net curtains. Jake stood on the underlay in white boxer shorts.
His mother’s face appeared confused as she looked at the teenager. “I don’t understand why you would say that. I do care about you.” She fiddled with her dress as she spoke – white with yellow dots. Her hair was tied in a bun.
“No you don’t!” Jake screamed. “You wouldn’t have treated me like this if you did!”
The anger had been unexpected. Jake’s mother couldn’t fathom any reason for it. She’d been talking to a friend, Brian, and things had seemed calm, until after Brian had left.
Jake’s mother shifted her feet. “What’s wrong, Jake? I really don’t understand. If you don’t tell me, how can I possibly help you? Please just tell me…”
“You know exactly what you did!” Jake shouted, his voice breaking.
“I honestly have no idea.” Her eyes pleaded with him, but this went unregistered by Jake.
“I’ll make sure you’re sorry for treating me like that!” Jake stormed out of the room and up to his bedroom.
His mother, Gloria, stood in the living room, absolutely flabbergasted. She heard Jake slam his bedroom door. He began to cry, but was still almost shouting through his tears.
“Why’d she do that? Why doesn’t she give a toss about me? Why doesn’t she care? She knows what she did – she can pretend she doesn’t, but she knows!” He fell onto his bed, eyes open, staring up at the ceiling. His room smelled of socks that hadn’t been washed for too long, lingering stale sweat, and that weird, non-specific “boy’s bedroom” smell. He ignored it all.
The house was silent. In that quietness, it felt as though there was nothing but Jake and the world – and it was as if the entire world was fighting against him.
“She’ll be sorry!” he cried. “She’ll be sorry when her son runs away. Let’s see how she feels then!”
He sat up and dangled and his feet off the edge of the bed.
“She probably won’t care, actually,” he said quietly. “Well then it’s good for both of us – she won’t have her son any more, and I won’t have to put up with being hurt by her.”
He stood up, then gathered some things from around his room – some clothes, CDs, and some crisps and chocolate for snacking on. He threw them into a bag and got fully dressed. Then he grabbed his bag, and thundered downstairs.
“Jake, what-” his mother started to ask, and her tone changed to one of desperation as Jake yanked the front door open.
“Jake, where are you going? Jake! Please, don’t go!”
Jake responded stormed out of the house. His mother rushed after him.
“Jake!” she shouted. “Please! Jake!” She started to cry, but Jake had walked too far away to notice. “Jake. Please.” The words were to herself now. She was trembling. She was too frail to run after him, and just stared as he walked further into the distance. Then she went back into the house and called 999.
After being connected to the police, a male voice spoke to her.
“Police. What’s the nature and location of the emergency?”
“My son! He’s ran away!” Gloria was breathing rapidly.
“I need you to take a breath and try to speak clearly. What’s his name?”
“Jake,” Gloria replied. “Jake Etcher. Average height, thirteen, brown hair-”
“I need your name and the last place he was seen.”
The dispatcher took some more details.
“Gloria, lots of children run away then return home. I’m sure Jake will return soon after being without his mum for a bit.”
“He won’t,” Gloria insisted. “He’s got a mental health problem. When he gets emotional, it’s really hard to get him back out of that state. Jake might be miles away soon!”
“If he’s still not back in 24-hours, give us a call back.”
“What?! You’re not meant to wait 24-hours now! And he’s not just missing, he ran away! They say the first four hours are most important!”
The operator’s tone became curt.
“Don’t tell me how to do my job.”
“Well someone bloody well has to if you won’t do it properly!” Gloria’s voice quietened as she added “Please help my boy.”
Jake had walked quite far from his home. Tears drenched his face and shone in the sun. As he was so deep in his own emotions, he didn’t notice any of the sights, smells, or sounds – a man working on his old three-wheeler car, petrol fumes, or the litter blowing around the almost-empty street.
“She said to go away, so now she gets what she wanted,” he said to himself. Something inside him seemed to try to get him to reconsider his view, but he pushed it down. “Not only that, she laughed at me as well.” His breath was interspersed with little gasps and sniffles. “She doesn’t want me anymore.”
He reached a bus stop and sat down on the plastic seat. Someone had smashed the advertising pane, so there was glass on the floor. He could now smell the exhaust fume of the odd car. The low hum of an engine occasionally drifted to his ears as he sat in silence.
He felt like his world had been ripped away from him.
A bus approached the stop, and Jake bowed his head to try to hide his tears. Lots of passengers seemed to get off the bus, and once they had gone, Jake laughed derisively. There had been so many people, but he felt so alone.
After some time, he was aware of a presence to his right. He glanced up and saw, at the side of the shelter, a man in top-brand clothes, wearing a baseball cap. Jake sensed that there was something “off”, something not quite right about him, but he didn’t have the courage to just get up and leave, even though he knew it would have been a non-event to a stranger.
“Alright our kid.” The man’s accent was strong. He sounded like he was from Manchester.
“Hi,” Jake replied. For some reason, the man grinned slightly. Jake turned his head away and most of the rest of the conversation continued with him looking out into the road.
“Are you waitin’ for a bus?” the man asked. “Or chillin’?”
“Crap round ’ere innit? You wait ages for one and it dunt even turn up on time.”
Jake nodded. The man moved closer. He reeked of terrible aftershave.
“Listen, our kid,” he said, “I don’t care if you’ve ran away from home or sumat, it’s none of me business. But I know how you can make some easy dosh.”
Jake didn’t know why, but something about what this man said disturbed him. He hadn’t said anything inappropriate, but he just felt creepy, somehow. But Jake knew he’d need to buy food if he was going to be on the streets, so the mention of “easy dosh” appealed to him.
“How do I make it?” Jake asked.
“Do you like girls?” the man asked. It was a strange question, but Jake nodded anxiously. “Good. You can make some money easily then. I bet you’re a virgin, innit?”
Jake’s laugh in response was unconvincing. He tried to sound casual.
“’Course not, I’m not a virgin.”
The man grinned.
“You are a virgin.” He seemed convinced. “But it’s alright mate, you don’t have to be embarrassed or owt. Some birds love virgins.” Jake said nothing. “Get up and follow me, our kid.”
The man started to walk away, then stopped. Jake hesitated.
“Are you coming, our kid? Easy bread, or sit on your bill. You choose mate.”
Jake got up and went over to the man. He threw an arm around Jake’s shoulder and led him up a road that turned off from the main one. Hedges lined the pavement on either side and mottled sunlight decorated the ground. Jake suddenly felt like someone was watching him, but when he tried to turn his head, the man gripped him more tightly and spoke to him again, distracting him.
“You don’t have to be nervous, kid.”
They entered an old, run-down building and the man led the way down some stairs. Jake could run – there was nobody blocking his path to the front door. His instincts were telling him to get out of there – fast. But he was scared of making the man angry. He followed him into the room.
The room had a musty smell and was very dusty. There was a single light hanging from the ceiling. A double mattress was on the floor with a faded sheet on top of it. It looked like some sort of seedy brothel room.
“This is what you’re going to do,” said a voice from behind him. Jake couldn’t place the accent, but his diction was clearer than the first man’s. “You’re going to fuck Melissa.”
For the first time since entering the room, Jake noticed a girl stood in the far, dark corner of the room, away from the bed. She was naked. She seemed to be Jake’s age. She wasn’t smiling.
“When you’ve shagged her, we give you some money,” the man added. “Easy.”
Blake pulled nervously at the sleeves of his jacket.
“Howcome?” he asked. “I mean what do you get–”
“Never mind that!” the man snapped. “No questions – you want some money, me and… Bob… here want you to fuck Melissa. Simple as that.”
For a moment, there was silence. Jake looked around. There was no window; only one way out and the two men were stood in front of it. A siren sounded in the distance and as it quickly faded, Jake knew it wasn’t coming to save him.
“He’s a virgin,” the first man said. “Probably shy.”
The second man’s eyes seemed to light up.
“A virgin eh? Then you’ll love it, so shut up and get on with it.”
“Um I’m not so sure about it,” Jake said.
“Melissa wants to do it, don’t you, Melissa?” The girl didn’t respond. “Well you know what’s going to happen if you’re not cooperative. You know what to do.”
Melissa walked over to the bed and lay on it, her legs spread. Jake naturally couldn’t help staring, but then he noticed Melissa’s face. It was devoid of emotion. Numb. It was as though she was dead inside. Jake could tell she didn’t want to do this, and anger rose inside him.
“Fuck you!” he shouted, then tried to force his way past the men, but he was thrown onto the bed.
“I’ll get the equipment,” said “Bob”, and left the room. The second held Jake to the bed. He tried to fight back, but the man was too strong. A battery of punches easily subdued him.
“Please, no,” Jake begged as the man begin to remove the boy’s clothes. When he had managed to strip Blake to his tracksuit bottoms, Jake began to cry. The man laughed and yanked them off.
“I’m sorry, mum,” Jake said quietly. The man either didn’t hear or ignored it. He began to pull Jake’s boxer shorts off.
A loud bang distracted him. It was followed by shouts of “Police! Remain where you are!” followed by loud, fast footsteps on the staircase. Officers burst into the room. The man tried to fight them but was quickly overpowered and arrested. Jake could hear the other man being arrested outside. A woman with ginger hair entered the room, and Melissa rushed towards her.
“Mum!” she shouted. They hugged each other tightly. Jake’s mother then entered the room and hugged her son. He hugged her back and explained at last. When his mother had been talking to Brian earlier, and Jake had wanted something, she’d told Jake to go away. His mother explained that she had only been joking, and didn’t realise Jake had taken it seriously. He cried and apologised.
“It’s alright, Jake,” said Gloria. “I’m just glad you’re safe.”
It transpired that when Jake had felt like he was being followed earlier, he had been correct. When Melissa had gone missing some time ago, a girl called Sammy had noticed a suspicious man hanging around. When Jake had ran off, Sammy saw the same man talking to Jake, so she’d followed the pair. She then told Jake’s mother, who called the police again. They rushed to the building, broke in (the first man had locked the front door when he’d left to get “the equipment”), and arrested the men. It emerged that Melissa had been pressured into having sex, which had been secretly filmed.
The men had threatened to share the film with Melissa’s friends and family if she didn’t keep doing as they wanted, so Melissa was too embarrassed to tell anyone. The tape was found and destroyed, and the men were imprisoned for many years. The children were happily reunited with their parents and lived happily ever after.
Author Notes: Having attended presentations by Barnardo’s, Childline, and other child protection organisations, I have learned about particularly disturbing types of abuse and exploitation of children and that, contrary to popular belief, victims are not just female.
I therefore wanted to write a story about an issue that has sadly affected a number of young people, to help raise awareness.