In smoggy 1960s Yorkshire, a world away from the psychedelics of London, Mo arrives at the dingy building in Dewsbury where she is going to be a temp. She is not welcomed, instead she is ridiculed – a fat stupid girl running about like a frightened mouse. Merv though, the charismatic co-Director of the company, sees something in her he wants and takes her aside to be his PA. He uses his power and smooth transatlantic charm to shape her to his needs, letting her into his high flying world where there is glamour she has only seen in black and white on the TV, and showing her off against the hair-sprayed, stiletto heeled PAs of big companies. But he also shapes her with his brutality and so Mo must learn how to be right when it matters, to second guess his moods, and to survive without friend or family to turn to because in 1971, she is the one who is wrong.
Fat Mo has been a long time in the making, fifty years in fact, but events in America lifted a curtain and women began talking. The shame is that it took celebrities to do this, not the children of Rotherham and Rochdale who nobody believed. But then that’s been the pattern – power is relative and if you are the powerless one in your particular world, you are vulnerable to exploitation by men* who seem to have something to offer. They will certainly have plenty to take, and silence may be your only option when speaking out brings contempt and retribution.
This is what happened to Mo. It’s a story of grooming, of how from small beginnings someone can be manipulated into believing their abuser is their friend, their lover, their provider of wonderful things. Mo is reeled in by the attention, the access to a glamorous lifestyle her background could never have offered, and then she is held there like a moth in room with just one light bulb. But there are other things holding her; the shame that stops her telling her family, the rules of society that make it her fault whatever Merv does, and fear. Fear because being right about what Merv approves of is her best bet for staying safe, and because being right is impossible as he is the sole arbiter of what that is and it’s never the same.
With a Foreword by Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, past president of the British Psychological Society, Fat Mo is a story of small people; the one with no voice who is alone and living in fear, the ones who know something and say nothing, and the one whose own fears may be responsible for everyone else’s.
My hope is that readers will gain from Mo’s story some insight into grooming; the subtlety of it, the relentless manoeuvring, rewarding, undermining, gas lighting, and threats that leave a victim helpless and trapped. It happens to clever people, famous people, vulnerable people, lost and hopeless people. It happened to me.
Fat Mo is available from Lulu where all proceeds will go to Respond, a charity working with people who have learning disabilities and who know very well what sexual exploitation means when everyone turns a blind eye.
Reviews invited. Contact me for details.
- Not exclusively men but overwhelmingly so, and although men and boys are also victims, it is mostly women and girls who find themselves in these appalling relationships. Safeline is a website supporting male victims; the Survivors Trust supports any victim of sexual violence. Respond is exclusively for people with learning/intellectual disabilities.