Maria’s Story

Maria had a chaotic childhood and adolescence which included the suicide of one sibling, fatal overdose of another, a father who died young from alcoholism and two further siblings who spent time in prison regularly.  It is not surprising that at 15 she fell for a man who seemed loving and interested in her but she soon found herself in a violent relationship where she was beaten if she tried to speak up for herself.  This man introduced her to crack and when she ran away from him at 17 she had a habit.  She soon met another man who recognised her vulnerability and promised to ‘look after her’.  She soon had a heroin habit and when he suggested she fund it by prostituting herself on the streets of Leeds she did.  She had two children with this man and continued to use drugs and sex-work.  Both her children were removed from her, one stayed within the family but the other was adopted and she lost contact with her altogether.

Some years later Maria’s partner went to prison and she used the opportunity to get away from him and find a property in an area where he wouldn’t think to look for her.  She still had a serious heroin addiction and the added trauma of losing her children and being estranged from her family who would not speak to her.  She continued to sex work and to use huge quantities of heroin.  Through contact with Genesis on the outreach van she learned that she could get a referral for some support with her drug use and after a few failed attempts and missed appointments she went to see a drug therapist and a doctor and was given a prescription for Methadone.

Maria stayed on Methadone for 4 years.  During this time she continued to sex work occasionally to pay for treats for her son when he visited her.  She was slowly building up a relationship with her family and she chose to stay single after her earlier experiences.

Maria’s life was relatively stable.  She still used heroin but could not be said to have an addiction to it in the way she had.  She was still on quite a high dosage of Methadone but this was being regulated by her drug therapist and doctor and they were happy with the results.  She still sex worked but usually with regular ‘punters’ and she had a one bedroomed house with a little garden in a quiet area.

Then Maria was raped.  She had agreed to see someone who was not a regular but who another punter had told her was ok.  He came to her house and after paying her for sex he systematically abused her-physically, sexually and mentally, holding a knife to her chest and telling her he was going to kill her when he had finished with her.  The ordeal went on for the whole night and she only escaped when he fell asleep.

With Genesis’ help she reported this to the police and a member of Genesis staff stayed with her through the whole procedure.  She had to have intimate samples taken for DNA purposes, she had her home sealed off and examined, she was interviewed three times for hours at a time.  Less than a month later a man was arrested and charged with the assault.

This experience changed Maria.  She started to use heroin again in huge quantities.  She didn’t get to appointments so she had her Methadone prescription withdrawn and she started self-harming on a daily basis.  Through all this she stayed in touch with Genesis.  Sometimes her support worker was the only person she would talk to.  She was given unconditional support and she was ALWAYS believed when she talked about what happened to her.  She was given food parcels to make sure she always had something in the house to eat.

Eventually Maria’s behaviour brought her into contact with the Police.  She had been arrested several times when she was younger but had managed to stay out of trouble when she was more stable.  Now that her life had been turned upside down she started shoplifting and drug dealing and a few months after her assault she was sentenced to 12 months in prison.

Through her sentence Genesis workers continued to stay in touch with Maria, writing to her and going to see her regularly.  After years of holding all her trauma in she finally asked for help from the prison mental health team and was referred to a psychiatrist to have some sessions discussing her childhood and her violent experiences with men.  She had self-harmed as a way to deal with things she had never discussed but now she had the opportunity to talk to someone who knew how to help her.

It is still early days for Maria.  Years of abuse and addiction do not go away by magic.  It will take a long time and a lot of professional support before the pain of her experiences will stop driving her to hurt herself but she has made the biggest and most courageous step-she asked for help.   Genesis will continue to support Maria for as long as she needs.  She is not sex working at the moment but we still keep in touch with her and if she asks for a food parcel, a visit or some support going to an appointment we are happy to help her.

Genesis’ mission statement says – “We believe in the unique worth of every person and are committed to providing a confidential service based on respect and trust, which encourages women to realise their potential and fulfil their goals”.  Supporting Maria and women like her is part of that promise and something we will continue to do.