by Rikki Knight
One evening in February 2017 there was a knock on the door. I opened it to see police officers and social workers standing before me. I assumed, naively, that they had the wrong address. Until they stepped inside. Then the penny dropped.
Months before, a relative had made some not-so veiled threats: “You wouldn’t like me to call prevent.” “Muslims can be locked up for anything these days.” “I teach my family to stick together whether we do right or wrong.” And now, she had reported me.
My head spun as accusations flew: terrorism, FGM, child abuse, Syria. I felt complete disbelief: lies had led to this moment. Then the social worker asked for my four-month-old’s clothes. They were taking my children, my baby. My beautiful baby.
Overwhelmed by the storm I at the centre of, paralysed by both fear and confusion, I handed them over and was taken to the police station. I spent six hours alone in a cell. Six hours not knowing what had happened to my children. I was petrified. Petrified that I would never see my kids again. That these lies would be believed and I was going to prison. That they would see the Qur’an app on my phone and think I was a fanatic. I questioned my beliefs.
It became clear that I wouldn’t get my children back until the police had concluded their investigation. My youngest was still breastfeeding; we had never been apart before.
The police were very matter-of-fact: it was just procedure to them. I was shown legal documents built upon my relative’s lies, documents alleging I was best friends with a girl who had left the country to go to Syria five years ago, stating that this girl was godmother to my eldest daughter.
I explained that we don’t have godparents in Islam, that this girl went to my secondary school (which I left 11 years ago) but that we had lost contact shortly after. It turned out that we lived in the same area, that she went to the local mosque, and that five months after I converted she disappeared. Later, the tabloids said where she had gone. That was how I found out, like everyone else. Our paths did not cross, we were not friends.
The officer in charge believed what I had told him.
All I wanted, desperately needed, was to see my children and be sure they were OK. I was released on the same night (Wednesday) but did not get them back. On Friday we had to attend court where social services battled with the judge not to let us have contact with our children until Monday.
I couldn’t stop crying. I felt overwhelmed with anxiety. Every single moment of my day was focused on seeing my children, I couldn’t eat, sleep, speak. I tried to keep a brave face on but kept crumbling. But I didn’t want the judge to see me in a state; I wanted him to see a normal mum and give me back my children.
We were given permission to see them. For two hours. At a contact centre. It was heart-breaking: my son screamed and cried. He didn’t understand why we were separated, and I had no explanation.
We still couldn’t see my eldest daughter: my relative claimed she was too scared to see us. I couldn’t believe they could they give my daughter to the person who had made these allegations. My daughter wasn’t normally even allowed to sleep over with her because I just didn’t trust this person.
And now my family was ripped apart on the basis of her allegations. It was literally my word against hers and I was treated as guilty until I proved my innocence.
The legal system realised we were a good family unit after investigating forensically and finding nothing. When our friends, family and colleagues of all faiths and ethnicities came to defend us. When our children continued to show that they were happy and healthy. And, over a week later, we were finally reunited.
But I chased the police. I wanted them to check on us. I had nothing to hide. I needed them to see that. I needed clarity.
They came once. And then they closed the case. They apologised and that was is it, that was meant to make it OK. They removed our names from their system and refused to answer our calls.
And now - two years on - my relationships with my family and friends are even stronger. Throughout our ordeal they were by my side, the backbone and the crutch I needed to keep going.
Although at the time I questioned my beliefs because the judicial system made me feel I had to choose between my children and Islam, my faith is intact. It has given me the strength to move forward, to heal, to be present and to accept my vulnerabilities. I understand that there’s a deeper reason for everything.
My children are resilient to a degree: still open, playful and innocent children who understand that there is a lot more love in the world than hate or prejudice. But I’ve had to explain that many unjust, cruel things happen in the world.
Of course, my son still remembers now two years on. For a long time he refused to sleep alone and began to wet the bed. The baby doesn't remember, but my milk dried up through separation and stress: our connection was lost.
We’ve worked through feelings of guilt, distrust and hurt together. I believe our relationship is just as close as it ever was.
I’ve put myself through counselling, but I have struggled. Sometimes I don’t want to get out of bed. I put on a brave face for the children, but crumble from time to time. I’m not perfect and can’t seem to shift the feeling of shame and blame. I make myself busy to avoid facing the pain that refuses to disappear. I’ve recently vowed to slow down and work through it.
I know that I am not alone and many women have suffered this fate before me. But I carry a burden of shame caused by the allegations made against me. And shame has kept them silent too. Not just here; all around the world. The stories of aboriginal women whose babies were ripped from their breasts plagues my soul. Trump’s policy of enforced separation at the border brought back my agonising trauma.
I know now that the only way for me to heal is to use my voice and speak out, so the others who have faced such an ordeal know they are not alone. I created @mendingmummy to create a space for women from all walks of life to break down stigmas, raise awareness, offer support and heal in the process.
4:30pm Police and social services arrived at the door
5pm Separated from her children and taken to police station
11:30pm Arrived back home from police station after questioning with no children
Attended court; judge awarded two-hour visits
First two-hour visit with younger two children only in contact centre
Second two-hour visit with younger two children only in contact centre
Judge increased to four-hour visit because of breastfeeding, with younger two children only
Four-hour visit, first time Rikki saw her daughter, younger two children were there too
Four-hour visit with daughter and two younger children
Children had medicals to check for abuse
Daughter arrived first to be collected to go home
Waited two hours for younger children
All home by the Thursday evening
WHAT IS PREVENT?
- In 2011 the Prevent strategy was launched and the purpose was to safeguard communities from the threat of terrorism. It aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting them.
- In 2015 the strategy incorporated a duty on specific bodies including schools, colleges, universities, health bodies, local authorities, police, and prisons to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.
- Prevent falls under the responsibility of the Home Office and is one part of a wider strategy, CONTEST. The strategy includes Pursue (stopping terrorist attacks happening in the UK and overseas), Protect (strengthen protection against a terrorist attack in the UK or overseas) and Prepare (mitigate the impact of a terrorist incident if it occurs).
- Since 2010, 280,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material have been removed from the internet.
- More than 150 attempted journeys to the Syria/Iraq conflict area were disrupted in 2015. This includes action by the family courts that protected approximately 50 children from being taken to the conflict area in 2015.
- The Prevent remit tackles a plethora of perceived areas of vulnerability and threat including online radicalisation, those in need of rehabilitation and the most vulnerable that need tailored support because they are being drawn towards terrorism.
“Every child is different” goes the saying, but surely the same can be said for mothers too.
Despite the enormous spectrum of realities however, too often we are fed a singular story about motherhood.
It’s one that dominates the adverts, the online influencers and features large in what we see projected into our homes via TV and film, but it’s a representation that so many mothers do not identify with.
Make Motherhood Diverse is not an act of exclusion. We don’t want to ignore the mothers in the adverts; the middle-class white mothers with glossy hair and immaculate clothes. What we want to do is represent this version of motherhood truthfully: as part of the picture, not its whole.
Make Motherhood Diverse is an act of inclusion.
Because when we look at representations of motherhood in our society awareness demands we ask, where are the black mums, the brown mums, the differently-abled mums? Where are those caring for children with additional needs? Where are those with tattoos and piercings, pink hair or those who just don’t care about their appearance? Where are the gay mums, the fat mums, the working-class mums? Where are the mums who might tick several or all of these boxes?
You’re all out there, but ask yourself how many times do we see your faces or hear your stories?
Make Motherhood Diverse wants to change this. Yes, it’s only a hashtag, just another social media campaign, but by reading the stories of mothers who do not look like us, who do not sound like us, or dress like us, whose children don’t look or behave like ours, perhaps we can learn.
Perhaps we can start to celebrate the things that make us different, and maybe, through the prism of motherhood, we can start to realise just how much we have in common.
Make Motherhood Diverse aims to represent every experience equally, democratically, and inclusively, using the pictures mothers choose to take, and the words they choose to use.
We don’t speak for anyone, you speak for yourselves. We simply provide visibility, a level and reaching platform, for all the “types” of mother you can possibly think of to stand tall, proud and heard.