The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Choosing Predators Over Girls
When your home isn’t safe
Anonymous
headshot

Names have been changed.

I’ve been living with my foster mother, Ms. Cayman, for a little over two years now. She and Uncle Ellis—a family friend, not actually a relative—have been close since they were children. When I first moved in, he often came by the house to drop off extra food and make small repairs. He was friendly and seemed happy to see me when I answered the door. I thought he was a nice guy.

About eight months ago, my foster mother told me that Uncle Ellis had no place to go, so he would be staying with us for a little while. I knew it was illegal to have people in a foster home who haven’t been fingerprinted and had their criminal backgrounds checked. Illegal acts don’t necessarily bother me, though, because I grew up with people who broke the law. And I trusted my foster mother’s judgment.

Uncle Ellis slept in the small room down the hall from me. Occasionally, he would sneak me something sweet, breaking Ms. Cayman’s rule against eating in my room.

I think my foster mother noticed, though, because eventually Ellis started to sleep on the couch downstairs. I liked that better because whenever I got out of the shower, it seemed like he was always doing something near the bathroom. I started to feel like he was creepy, but I told myself he must be OK if Ms. Cayman moved him in.

Whenever my foster mother was mean to me, Uncle Ellis got friendlier. Maybe he feels bad for me, I thought. On nights my foster mother didn’t cook dinner, Uncle Ellis would buy us all food from a Caribbean spot nearby.

Uncle Ellis even gave me money sometimes. At first I refused because I knew he was going behind my foster mother’s back. I didn’t want her to find out and think that I was asking him for anything. Yet he was persistent and generous, so I began to accept when I really needed money. Then he started offering to take me shopping.

“Is that OK with Ms. Cayman?” I asked.

“She doesn’t have to know everything, does she?”

I told him that I would think about it, but I knew I didn’t want to go anywhere with him if I wasn’t able to tell my foster mother about it.

At this point, I wasn’t getting a friendly “uncle” vibe anymore. It was more like he was attempting to woo me. In my old neighborhood, a group of old guys would just sit outside all day and “eye-rape” girls who walked by. I started to see Uncle Ellis as one of them.

After that, I tried my best to avoid him, but when I snuck out, I sometimes needed his help to get back inside. He would look me up and down, licking his dry lips, when he let me in the house. He also used those interactions to pester me about shopping with him.

Taking Advantage

Meanwhile, my relationship with Ms. Cayman was slowly deteriorating. When I moved in with her, I was 18, and I accepted her obnoxious rules even though I didn’t like them. Over time, they’ve made me feel like this was never my home.

After two years, I’m still not allowed to use the oven. She literally closes down the kitchen by shutting off all the lights at 10 p.m. And if I’m not home by my curfew, even 15 minutes late, she locks me out of the house. I can’t eat in my room, but she, her husband, and her daughter can eat in theirs.

At first I thought she had to get used to me before seeing me as her family. But it only got worse. At least I’m not starving. At least she gives me allowance, I would think to myself. Now she barely buys me food that I want to eat, just unhealthy snacks like Oreos and cakes. She slowly stopped giving me my allowance too.

I responded to feeling unwanted by AWOLing and staying away, which she accepts and doesn’t report. This works for her because she’s still getting money for me.

She’s also Christian and very judgmental: One time when she thought I was lying, she said, “In the Bible, God says liars are abominations.” Since then, it’s hard to talk to her about anything.

This left me vulnerable to a man who I now realize is a sexual predator. He was well aware that I was using his help to stay out of trouble with my foster mother. I couldn’t talk to my foster mother about anything and he knew that. He tried to take advantage of that situation.

Although I was never scared that he would assault me, Ellis made me nervous and uncomfortable whenever we were alone. I stopped addressing him as “Uncle.”

One night I came home right at curfew and rang the bell, but nobody answered. I was on the phone with my best friend as I rang the bell over and over again. It was freezing cold and my hands were going numb. As we talked, Ellis pulled up in his jeep.

He shouted over the engine, “Is anybody home?”

I shook my head no.

“Get in with me, it’s too cold out there.”

I didn’t want to get in the car with him, but Ellis said he was just going to find a parking spot. I got in because he had keys to the house and it was, in fact, very cold. I tried to stay quiet but he kept asking me questions. My best friend was still on the line.

“I thought we were going shopping,” he pestered.

image by YC-Art Dept

“I changed my mind,” I said.

“How about a party?” he asked me after he had found parking. We were walking back to the house.

“I’m not the party type,” I told him.

Whose Responsibility?

When he unlocked the door, I ran straight upstairs to my room. The next morning I woke up to loud banging on my bedroom door. I jumped up quickly and threw on some clothes, thinking it was an emergency. Instead I opened my door to a very angry Ms. Cayman.

“Good morning?”

“We need to have a serious talk.” She barged into my room. “Who let you in my house last night? I watched the cameras so you better be truthful.”

It bothers me when she says “my house” after I’ve been living there more than two years.

“I have no reason to lie,” I said, then told her what happened.

“Are you sure that’s all that happened?”

“Why would you assume otherwise?” I was lost. Did she really think I had a thing for an old bald man from Jamaica?

“You need to stay away from Ellis because he likes little girls,” she said aggressively, like it was my fault.

“Why do you say that?” I asked, shocked that she knew and let him live here.

“Because he got my last foster daughter pregnant. You need to stay away from him.”

I asked Ms. Cayman how old her foster daughter was at the time and she said the girl was over the age of consent. (“Age of consent” is how old a young person has to be for sex with an adult to be legal, not statutory rape. In New York, that age is 17.) She said Ellis still talks to the girl and takes care of their baby, as if that made it OK. When he came home with dinner that night, Ms. Cayman called me downstairs like everything was normal. She laughed and joked around with him, while I wondered, Why isn’t she telling him to stay away from me?

I’m afraid I know the answer to my own question. My foster mother felt like she addressed the problem by warning me. Ms. Cayman feels like men are to be catered to, and it’s the responsibility of women and girls not to “entice” them.

That’s not what I believe. I think it is his fault for preying on girls. I believe it was her duty, as my foster mother, to protect me from him. Instead, she made it seem like his interest in me was my fault. She confronted me—not Ellis—even though she acknowledges that he is a predator. Her statement about Ellis taking a liking to “little girls” made that very clear.

Even though I’m 21 now, I often get mistaken for a younger teenager. What if Ellis didn’t even know my age before he began flirting with me? I never remember him asking. I wonder if that other girl was actually at the age of consent. Besides, even if she was 20, 19, or 17, she was still a foster child in the home.

Grooming

I think Ms. Cayman is afraid to lose Ellis as a brotherly friend but not afraid to lose me as a daughter. Probably because she never saw me as one, which made it easier to choose him over me in the first place. Maybe it’s hard to admit that someone you love is a monster and even harder to ask that person to stop being a monster.

I’ve seen other families and foster families not confront the predator among them. When I was living in kinship care, my older brother exposed himself to me. I was in shock and ran to tell my grandmother.

She responded that my shorts were too short that day and to wear sweatpants whenever he came around. I felt like nobody who was supposed to protect me did. I started breaking down when I was alone because my family didn’t do anything to punish him. It was like the incident had never happened. After that, whenever my brother came over, I just stayed in my room until he left.

Ms. Cayman continues to let Ellis hang around because she cares about him more than she cares about me, just like my grandmother picked my brother over me. My foster mother told me that she would never leave Ellis on the streets. I know that’s how my grandma felt about my brother too.

I used to wonder why so much bad stuff happens to me. Now, I know that many people, male and female, choose boys and men over girls and women, even when they know there’s abuse. And girls in care are especially vulnerable. But it’s not our fault that men prey on us.

Even though Ellis didn’t touch me, I feel like he took advantage of me. I realized that Ellis had been “grooming” me for a sexual relationship with all his attention and little gifts. My foster mother should not have allowed him in our home. Everyone is in foster care for a reason. After suffering neglect in my younger years, I want to trust those who act like they care about me. My experience keeps telling me that’s a mistake.

I haven’t told my foster care agency about Ellis because I can AWOL from this home without getting reported. I go home once or twice a week to see my caseworkers and to try to get my allowance. I know this is a bad situation and I plan to sign myself out of foster care as soon as I can. After 10 years in care, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll never feel at home until I sign a lease of my own.

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(FCYU-2019-01-27)