For many years Janne hasn’t been able to tell her story.

Then Bergens Tidende received the letters she wrote to her best friend.

People need to know what happened, her friend thought.

Because it must never be allowed to happen again.

Everything is as usual the day Janne Mai Lothe Eliassen leaves her family for good:

The curtains are drawn. The flat smells of cigarettes, alcohol and cat faeces. The floor is covered in rubbish. Her mother and younger brother Ronny are sitting on the couch, heavily intoxicated.

As Janne enters the living room, she feels something burst.

"Why is it so bright in here?" she asks.

She then falls to the ground, her body in cramps.

Knuckles and veins are showing under her yellowing skin. She looks like a prisoner of war, Ronny thinks.

Janne has fought for her family for 27 years. Fought against the violence and the drinking. Fought against her own body, a body her own mother called “ugly”. She has fought to be heard.

There has been no lack of warnings. Hundreds of letters of concern have been written about Janne and her family. Those who could have done something about the situation, knew about the circumstances.

And yet she is still here.

But today it's over.

Today her body gives in.

"Call an ambulance!" Ronny bellows and lunges towards his sister. Their mother does nothing.

Janne Mai Lothe Eliassen leaves home accompanied by sirens and emergency lights. During the short trip from Landås to Haukeland hospital, her life is hanging in the balance.

AT GRAN’S: Janne is one year old, in a chair in gran’s living room, holding a violin. Throughout their childhood Janne would bring her younger brother to their gran’s in Olsviksåsen when things became too heated at home.

Janne Mai is born on 28 May 1973. The circumstances of the birth are not happy. Her mother is forty, homeless, and a heavy drinker. She doesn't tell anyone who the baby's father is.

At the Bergen Home for Mothers, children's nurse Bente Liland cares for the new-born girl. Liland will become one of many who recognise that something is wrong, and try to intervene. Liland becomes one of the people closest to the family.

What she sees makes her notify social services, which is also home to child protection services at this time.

Liland's letter of concern is one of many to come.

As years go by, numerous warnings about a family in deep crisis are sent off. At least fourteen people from thirteen different departments and institutions file reports about a lack of sufficient care.

They are not vague concerns, but reports about criminal offences and serious neglect.

Janne and her younger brother are left without food for days on end. They turn up to school in dirty clothes that don't fit them. Often they don't turn up at all. As they grow older, injuries become more noticeable.

But social services let the children stay on at home.

Psychiatrist Carmen Escobar Kvitting, head of the Clinic for Psychiatric Care for Children and Youths at Haukeland University Hospital, was one of the people who repeatedly raised the alarm with child protection services. Kvitting has been released from confidentiality. She feels certain that child protection services should have taken over the care for the children.

"Janne's life was over many years ago. She just existed," says Kvitting.

Several times the parents' needs have been used as an argument for not interfering with the situation. The biological principle – that children are best off with their biological parents – is deemed more important. This view has guided the work of child protection services up until today. For Janne and Ronny it will have devastating consequences.

Reports show that a number of meetings were held concerning the family's problems. Kvitting attended many of these meetings.

“In this case, an entire council administration became paralysed by a physically and mentally ill mother. Many documents show that the support system felt sorry for this mother who wanted to care for her children, despite being sick and appearing to be dying,” she says.

Kvitting isn't alone in thinking along those lines. Many of the reports from the 1980s state “the mother appears to be dying.”

Janne’s and Ronny's mother passed away in 2010.

"Did you try to notify anyone?"

"I did. Lots of times."

"What should child protection services have done?"

"Listened to us."

Janne, 2013

Throughout the 1980s Loddefjord is a borough in crisis. Children as young as fourteen are selling drugs outside the grey concrete high-rises.

At the offices of social services, files on families fighting addiction, psychiatric and financial problems are piling up. Staff are hard-pressed. A handful of case workers handle thousands of families.

Janne's family is one of them.

There's a pungent smell of mould, alcohol and tobacco throughout the flat. The radiator is broken, and there are cracks in the floorboards. The mother drinks continuously, her new husband more periodically. When drunk, they become angry and abusive. The stepfather hit harder and more frequently, Janne says today. His eyes go dark. He shouts that he is going to kill them.

BEST FRIENDS: Janne (left) and Kristin become best friends in primary school. From the girls are thirteen till they are twenty-four they exchange letters regularly. Kristin keeps the letters, and they now form the basis for this article.

Janne's room is sparsely decorated. She has made the bookshelf herself out of some wooden boards; a single mattress with dirty sheets lies on the floor. When the storm rages at full strength in the livingroom, Janne escapes to her letters and drawing pencils.

At night, when the fighting is over and the bottles have been emptied, Janne writes long letters to her best friend, Kristin Tømmervaag. Kristin is four days older than Janne, and lives in the next-door building.

Every morning they meet by the corner of the high-rise, and walk together the short way to Vadmyra Primary School. Both have dark hair, red coats and orange school bags with brown trimmings. Everyone thinks they're sisters.

On the face of it everything is the same. But where Kristin comes home to a family dinner, Janne often finds a locked front door.

Janne makes Kristin laugh. Kristin gives Janne the care she doesn't get at home. The bond between them will come to withstand all. Janne can tell her best friend everything. The letters always listen to her thoughts. At 16 years old she writes this to Kristin:

Dear Kristin

It's an eternal chaos here at home, you see. Some time ago, social services came over, to snoop around the flat. (To see how we are.) They seemed to pity me, because I don't have a bed. We reckoned they'd help us, at least a LITTLE! But no, they didn’t!

Kristin keeps the letters, written by Janne from age 13 to age 24, in a shoe box. Later, when Janne is no longer able to tell what happened in that dark flat, the neatly handwritten sheets of paper will document a lost childhood. And later, when Janne finds herself all alone, Kristin becomes her anchor.

My father would take Janne to his room. We could hear her screaming. As a brother, not being able to protect your sister is the worst.

Ronny, 2013

“Your turn”.
Her mother's voice is sad. She nods towards the bedroom.

Ever since Janne was little, she has known what that means. She walks slowly towards her stepfather.

It begins when she gets to lie in bed with her mother and father, she explains. She's lucky to be allowed to be there, they tell her. They caress her. After a while the touching becomes rougher. Janne says she tries to get away, but the mother grabs her by the wrists and pins her down.

Then there's nothing but pain.

PROBLEMS: When Janne is twelve years old she tells Kristin that she is being molested by her stepfather. When Janne is thirteen she finds it difficult to cope with everyday life. "Janne is upset and cries a lot", writes the school medical officer at Sandgotna school.

Janne is 12 years old when she tells Kristin. About the things that are going to scar her body and give her nightmares for the rest of her life. Kristin understands that it is wrong, but she keeps the secret, like Janne asks her to.

Kristin isn't the only one to hear about the abuse. Janne's mother tells several adults that Janne has been molested.

Aged 16, Janne is in the office of psychiatrist Carmen Escobar Kvitting at the section for child psychiatry (BUP) at Haukeland University Hospital. It only takes a few sessions before Janne tells her that she has been abused by her stepfather.

She also explains how her mother participated in several of the assaults.

The psychiatrist describes a scared, lonely child, showing clear signs of having been sexually abused.

"From Janne's symptoms, I assume the assaults began before she started going to school. Janne described how the assaults changed in character over time. It can be difficult for a child to distinguish between caresses made from love, and caresses from with a very different motivation. This led to the mother becoming jealous of Janne, which was the reason she would constantly tell the daughter how ugly she was," says Kvitting.

LONELY: Ever since Ronny is little, he is isolated and has no friends in school. Before long his primary school sends a letter of concern to social services.

The walls in the flat are thin. Ronny can hear his sister screaming. He's only a young boy, but he knows what's going on in there. Sometimes he can see it, when the door is left ajar. And Janne knows. She can see his little face though the opening.

The siblings talk about their parents' drinking, about the violence. But never about the most painful thing. It hurts too much. When Janne is in her early twenties, she writes several letters to Kristin about how her upbringing has affected her:

Dear Kristin

"Abuse of the kind I was subjected to has so many destructive consequences. Everything is ruined. Everything that was supposed to be beautiful and uplifting takes on a sickly mark from the past. You become inharmonious and in many ways self-destructive. An expert in harming oneself."

Rape. Over and over again. So painful. I screamed ”STOP IT!”.

Janne, 2013

"Here. And here." The mother draws lines on Janne's face with a black permanent marker. The markings show where she thinks her teenage daughter needs cosmetic surgery. To become prettier Janne needs liposuction, her mother says.

Janne desperately tries to convince her psychologist she needs surgery. In her letters to Kristin her skewed sense of self shines through:

Dear Kristin

"Right now I'm fighting tooth and nail to get my psychologist to realise the facts about my appearance. I'm completely aware that I'm going on about this. But it means EVERYTHING to me just now. My mother and I often sit up until late in the night discussing my problems. Apparently it shouldn't take that many procedures (surgeries) to improve me. Right now any change would be an improvement. I could hardly be any worse than I am already!"

Her stepfather's advances. Her mother's comments about how ugly she is. Janne hates her body. She feels dirty. After she’s eaten, she puts a finger down her throat. The only thing left that she can control, is food. Janne suffers from anorexia and bulimia from the age of fourteen, according to her journal from Haukeland Hospital.

The problems become noticeable to others when Janne starts school. Kristin notices that Janne's desk is often empty. She can't attend school because she has to care for her sick mother, Janne explains.

From when Janne is only five years old, medical records show that the mother has serious mental health issues and consumes large amounts of medication.

"She has had many psychiatric problems and complains about trembling. (…) Becomes distant and has difficulty connecting with her surroundings", her doctors note.

Janne has to take on the role of nurse and caretaker. Once again she writes about her problems in a letter to her best friend.

Dear Kristin

"Mummy has been very poorly, she has been feeling down, because she is sick. She has a progressive illness. And lately, she has lost faith in life. Sigh. In a way I've been working as her nurse … you can say I've supported her mentally too!"

Helge Jacobsen, school medical officer at Sandgotna school, is worried about Janne. In 1986 he writes a letter to warn school psychology services in Laksevåg: "Janne is upset and cries a lot. Mother is nearly 100% disabled (blood clots, nerves, medication), father probably not strong enough to handle the situation, so Janne must definitely have a hard time."

Carmen Escobar Kvitting repeatedly raised the alarm about Janne taking on far too much responsibility. The psychiatrist observed a very difficult relationship between mother and daughter:

"It was complicated to build a support network around Janne, because the bond between her and the mother was so strong. The mother claimed she could die at any time, and that led to Janne not being able to be away from her more than a few hours at a time."

Kvitting says the daughter worked as a caretaker for her mother, who needed a lot of assistance.

“In coordinating meetings I said time and time again that a child cannot act as a psychiatric nurse, but the case documents repeatedly stated that a child can't act as a psychiatric nurse, but the case documents repeatedly stateed that when faced with a choice between mother and daughter, the mother is chosen. The mother felt Janne was the only person who understood and could help her. Janne agreed.”

The two children stand out at every school they attend. Letters of concern are sent to social services from teachers, headmasters and school medical officers. The parents rarely attend meetings or school functions.

On one rare occasion her stepfather shows up. Janne finds him staggering around the schoolyard. He is so drunk that he is asked to leave school premises and never come back. Janne is blushing with humiliation.

"Collaboration with the mother was non-existent. She would never show up when summoned. We called a few times and talked to her on the phone, but we never achieved anything", writes headmaster Sigrun Eckhoff from Adventkirken secondary school in a report to the childrens' psychiatric unit. The headmaster is clear about the reason why Janne isn't showing up at school:

"The school regards Janne Mai's circumstances at home as an obstacle to her education."

Several of Janne’s and Ronny’s teachers visit them at home and try to engage with the parents. They are met with little response.

The last time Janne receives a school report is Christmas 1988, during the final year of secondary school. After that her attendance is only sporadic. Her school report shows she is absent so often that she is let out of German elective classes. Instead she is allowed to list "social work". During this period using practical work as an elective subject was common practice. Janne has four hours a week approved where she cares for her ill mother and is also responsible for her younger brother.

In reality, the neglect she experiences at home becomes her approved elective at school. She continues living at home.

Mother always said it. Suicide. If I left the house.

Janne, 2013

VADMYRA: This is where Janne and Ronny lived for ten years. After school they would often come home to a locked door, and had to seek refuge with the building caretakers. Today, 30 years on, they still remember the children with “the awkward clothes” who were allowed in to use their bathroom in the afternoons.
BIG HAIR: At thirteen, home perms and pastels are on trend. Janne is very conscious about her looks, and struggles with her self-confidence. She is convinced by her own mother that she is fat and ugly.

It's dinner time on the estate at Vadmyra. There is a quiet knocking on the door of the workshop at the end of the block of flats. Outside a little school girl is standing. She is holding her five years younger brother by the hand.

"Can't get in at home," mutters the girl.

Janne and Ronny are allowed in by the building caretakers. They know the family, they know that the two little ones have a difficult situation at home. Today, thirty years later, they can still remember the children in "awkward clothes", who often had to seek refuge in their workshop after school.

Janne is responsible for the housework from an early age. If there's any money, she makes sure to stock the fridge. She often has to ask relatives for help. Bente Liland, the children’s nurse, sometimes stops by with food and clothes, and tries to follow up the family as best she can.

She knows that Christmas is a sad time for Janne and Ronny. She gets them presents and visits the family on Christmas eve. Even if there's no tree, she wants the children to have something to unwrap.

The big sister is responsible for getting Ronny out of bed in the morning, and also making sure he goes to school and does his homework in the afternoon.

The word "conscientious" often appears in the letters and reports about Janne. "She shows a great will to understand the other members of the family and sets her own needs aside", writes psychologist Ingolf Fosse in a report.

Dear Kristin

"Two people from family care services have been here twice. I've been given responsibility, by them, for my brother. I.e. teaching him to take the bus and to shop, help him with his homework (something I've always done), look after what he eats. I have to write down how much he weighs every day. And make sure he eats regularly, etc. etc.!"

Janne tries her best, but she is faced with an impossible task. Nobody makes sure Ronny brushes his teeth. He is nine when his teeth start rotting. Their mother will not allow him to go to the dentist. Instead she gives him copious amounts of heavy-duty painkillers. Ronny experiences his first withdrawal symptoms when the pills run out.

It won't be many years before he understands what the cramps and the cravings are really all about.

The letters of concern leave no doubt about how serious the situation is. This letter is sent by headmaster Svein Johannessen at Vadmyra school to Loddefjord social services in 1989:

"The school is concerned about the high degree of absence, smell from clothes/the boy, increasing nervousness, distancing from reality, fantasising, isolating himself, obesity, the relationship between mother/child. Ronny is not followed up at home. The mother lays all blame on the school. She refuses cooperation between Ronny/school health services and Ronny/school psychology services (PPT). PPT Laksevåg had supplied a support person for Ronny, but that too was eventually rejected by the mother".

It's not only in school Ronny is isolated. His father does not allow him to walk around the flat when at home, but has to stay in his room. To keep her brother occupied, Janne gets him books from the library. Instead of reading stories about The Hardy Boys, Ronny adopts other heroes. He reads Sartre, Descartes and Nietzsche. The boy, who only achieves Ds in most subjects, is studying existential theories. Later, the philosophers will save his life.

"My sister was more like a mother to me than mum was. And my dad wouldn't even lift a finger. All I had was Janne."

Ronny, 2013

Sometimes there is nothing Janne can do. They just have to get away. The trip to their grandmother in Olsviksåsen takes an hour. All tables are neatly covered with tablecloths, and there are flowers in the flower pots. Gran is always happy to see her grandchildren. She herself has lived with a man who had a serious drinking problem.

Ronny is just a young boy when his gran says something he is never going to forget.

“Poor child, you are going to have a hard life,” she sighs.

Gran is right.

Kristin and her family spot her right away as they turn the car towards the front of the house. The girl sitting on the staircase is soaking wet and shivering from the cold. In her lap is a scruffy-looking cat. Janne has been sitting here all day, waiting for Kristin and her parents to come home from their winter holiday.

The 13-year-old holds the cat out towards the family.

“My dad wants to kill Filemonn. Can he stay with you? Please?”

Kristin's family takes the cat in, and renames him Tarzan. The Tømmervaag family is a safe haven to Janne in a turbulent childhood.

She spends the night there as often as she can, and joins them on the ski slopes at Kvamskogen at the weekends. Later she and Kristin are allowed to stay in the log cabin on their own. Kristin writes about one of the trips in her diary:

"Nature smiled at us. We talked a lot. Janne was so open, she told me about so many things. Carmen, her psychologist, has told her that her mum and dad are sick, because of the sexual abuse. (…) There's no way Janne can believe that. She loves her mother. Carmen also said that her mother loved her, but hated her at the same time, because she is so dependent on Janne. It's just too sad".

TRIPS: In the midst of the chaos at home, Janne tries to be a normal teenage girl. The trips away with Kristin are rare highlights in Janne's life. Being invited to Kristin's family's log cabin at Kvamskogen is one of Janne's breathers. Janne and Kristin also travel together to Denmark and Sweden during the summer holiday of 1989.

Kristin's parents know things are difficult for Janne. They've observed the family and their problems up close ever since the children were little, and they often listen to their daughter's concerns for her friend. Kristin's mother notifies psychiatrist Kvitting about the situation several times.

They invite Janne to come and stay with them for a while, so she can have peace to do her homework. There's nothing she wants more. But how will Ronny fare if he is left alone with their parents? Janne doesn't dare risk it. She stays on at home. And social services let the children stay.

When she is fourteen, Janne tries to kill herself. The school medical officer can tell something isn't right with the 14-year-old, and refers her to the school psychology services (PPT).

"Janne Mai Eliassen is in need of acute help, and I ask she be admitted to the children's psychiatric unit (BUP) as soon as possible. She is in danger of developing a serious psychotic condition. There could be danger of suicide", writes Ingolf Fosse, psychologist with the school psychiatric service. He requests Janne to be admitted to BUP in 1987.

"Her role in the family leads to a lot pressure, and she is now under severe strain", writes Fosse.

In June 1987 she is admitted to BUP at Haukeland Hospital, and stays there for three weeks. The head of service Torkel Scholander and psychologist Nils Lid both talk to the fourteen-year-old, who yet again explains the details of her difficult situation at home. They diagnose Janne with "emotional disturbance with over-sensitivity and seclusion".

They see that the patient's domestic situation is difficult.

"The family is under a lot of pressure due to the mother's illness, with recurring acute hospitalisations. Mother gives the impression that she might die at any moment. (…) Father and mother are of little support to each other psychologically, and have both used Janne Mai as a sort of wailing wall".

The doctors also talk to Janne's mother and stepfather:

"Father says he is often exhausted from the problems of nursing his wife, minding the children, and providing for the family. (…) It looks like Janne's efforts to become independent are hard to cope with for the parents".

BIRTHDAY: Janne is celebrating her fourteenth birthday with her five years younger brother, Ronny. The siblings suffered a severe lack of care whilst growing up. Ronny says this picture was taken on a rare occasion when their home looked presentable.

The stepfather voices concerns about the children being taken away from home. Janne's case summary shows a young girl in an impossible situation:

"Problems adapting to school, social isolation, problems separating fact and fiction, suicidal thoughts, conflicts in relation to the family".

Fourteen years old, in the condition described here by her doctors, Janne is still responsible for her nine-year-old brother and mentally ill, drug-dependent mother. Janne's doctors don't think there is any immediate threat of her committing suicide, but they recognise there are multiple problems that need solving. They recommend a course of treatment for the entire family.

Despite yet another department now having detailed knowledge about the severe problems in the home, the children see no change.

"One time I was high during a visit from child protection services. On cannabis and pills and various stuff. My mother too. Janne was the only one sober when they arrived."

Ronny, 2013

The mother hasn't had a shower in several months. She doesn't leave the flat. Eventually she is admitted to Solli Nerve Sanatorium, and is treated for several weeks. During this period, the children, who are fourteen and nine, are left to their own devices.

Dear Kristin

"Thanks for your card. From what I gather you've had a wonderful time. I've been alone in the house the ENTIRE winter holiday. Ouph. Imagine how much fun we could have had at yours.

POOR HEALTH: Janne’s and Ronny’s mother battles with physical and mental problems her entire life. She rarely leaves the flat, and is periodically completely bedbound. Most days she never changes out of her dressing gown.

Their mother comes back from Solli clean and in a good mood. All of a sudden she is a mum. All of a sudden she's a mum. For a while the Eliassen family is almost like any other. The mother washes her hair for the first time in months. She puts on make-up, and cooks dinner.

The boost doesn't last for long. Things around the flat are soon worse than ever.

Empty bottles of alcohol and beer start piling up again, and disputes between the parents become more aggressive. One day Janne's stepfather beats his wife until she is lying on the floor, and puts the coffee table over her, Janne says. She remembers how he climbs on top of the table, and jumps, again and again, while his wife is lying underneath it. Janne runs to save her mother, and begs the stepfather:

– Take me instead!

He continues to jump.

A group of neighbours gathers on the stairs. They fear the woman is about to be killed, and notify the police. As emergency lights whirl into the square, the entire estate is watching. They see Janne's stepfather being escorted into the police car and taken away. He is not wearing shoes.

Finally, Janne thinks. She hopes he'll be put in prison. But he returns the next day. Janne wants to press charges, but the mother doesn't dare. She's too scared.

At least once the mother needs medical attention. In the medical journal from 1983 it says the patient has "dark marks" on arms and legs. "These are marks the patient has obtained from blows and injuries that haven't disappeared", the doctor notes.

The police visit the family on several occasions. One time Janne describes the incident in a letter to Kristin:

Dear Kristin

"A while ago the police came to our door. They shouted that they were the police, and I thought I would faint from panic when they let themselves in. They brought a doctor who asked my mother a whole bunch of questions. For instance,if she had suicidal thoughts.

The reason the police came was because the doctor had been here and had rung the doorbell before, and my mother hadn't answered. The doctor came to investigate the circumstances at home because my brother has been reported to the PPT (child services) as he doesn't function well at school."

ISOLATED: When this picture is taken, Ronny is fourteen years old. He is overweight, has started using drugs, struggles in school, and has no friends. Shortly after he tries heroin for the first time.

When the task of checking if the mother is suicidal has been accomplished, the officers leave. Again Ronny and Janne, 11 and 16 years old, are left to fend for themselves.

"It was dirty, there were liquor bottles everywhere...They did nothing. How can grown people see that and not act."

Ronny, 2013

Ronny is taken in by the toughest boys in the neighbourhood. It doesn't take long before he understands there is good money to be made selling hash. Before long he tastes the goods himself.

Ronny is a drug addict before he even enters his teens.

In 1990 money problems force the family to move from Loddefjord. The flat is repossessed and sold at an auction. The 16-year-old Janne fills in the paperwork to apply for a council flat. She gets hold of moving boxes and packs their belongings by herself.

The parents get divorced and, the father moves out. To Ronny it's a relief. But Janne says she continues to be abused whenever she sees her stepfather, up until she becomes an adult.

The little family leaves the borough without the authorities ever having intervened. The new place won't be any better.

Janne, Ronny and their mother stay in temporary accommodation in a number of places, before they're finally offered a council flat in a deprived part of Landås borough commonly known as "Chicago".

DEPRIVED: During the eighties, Janne’s family lives in Loddefjord. When their flat is repossessed and sold at auction, the family is forced to move. They stay a number of places before they end up in a council flat in a deprived area. From left: Prof. Hansteens gate 79, Møhlenpris. Lyngfaret 3. Rotthaugsgaten 5A. Adolph Bergsvei. Slettebakksveien 67. Nygaten 7 (where Janne lived with her friend Evy).

Just before the family moves and Ronny has to change schools, he goes to the headmaster's office. He takes the books out of his bag and leaves them by the door. He is moving anyway, and has no friends who will notice that he is gone.

Again it won't be long before someone new raises the alarm.

"The family struggles financially. Neither Ronny nor his sister had a bed. Ronny and his sister are concerned about the mother's illness. The family is socially isolated. The children: There is little to feel happy about", writes Laila Pettersen, headmaster at Krohnengen school, to Loddefjord social services in 1991.

Ronny changes schools again, this time for Rothaugen school in Sandviken. Again, staff react.

In 1992 school medical officer Knut Kvist states the following about Ronny: "Is clearly neglected in terms of lack of care where mother has a failing ability/possibility to provide care".

At the same time, the school medical officer passes a devastating verdict on social services in Loddefjord, who have failed to do anything about the situation, despite having been contacted repeatedly. Several times he has emphasised to them that Ronny shouldn't have to change environments yet again.

"Social services have not been able to prioritise this as important, resulting in the family having to move to a cheaper location, Adolph Bergsvei – which otherwise is a socially deprived area", writes Kvist.

Also counsellor Olav Sunde voices harsh criticism:

"The school's concern about Ronny's home/school situation was reported to social services early on in year seven. However, little was achieved on their part during the two years he attended school here. A number of meetings were held without necessary help being administered in the home".

In the meetings concerning Ronny, Janne often participates on behalf of the family. Case officers from child protective services, school psychiatric services, teachers and Ronny's support worker all participate. Again they note that the mother resists any efforts to help, and that "mother to a large extent seems dependent on Ronny and his help".

Child protection services now weigh the pros and cons of removing the 15-year-old from the home. In a meeting of September 1993 they conclude that "child protection services believe there is reason to take over custody of Ronny". Arguments in favour are clear, but child protective services hesitate.

"Transferral of custody could be very difficult for Ronny, and perhaps especially so based on the close relationship between him and the mother, and the role he has had and still has in relation to her".

The fact that Ronny has lived in isolation with his sick mother is used as a reason to keep him living at home. Instead a number of remedial measures are being put into place around the family. Ronny will get a support worker and respite care and the mother is promised immediate home care services.

But again, not much happens. Social services recall the decision about respite care due to a lack of capacity. And the head of home care services at Landås thinks the grown-up daughter of the household can take care of the housework.

Ronny wants to study mechanical engineering at technical college. The suggested course is a place "with students who have Down's syndrome and other lighter forms of mental disability", according to the minutes of a meeting between social services, Ronny and the mother in 1994. The day he meets the disabled students is one of the toughest for Ronny.

"Imagine the shame and humiliation. I was placed on the intellectual level of people with Downs. They even took my head away from me. The one thing I had that worked."

Ronny, 2013

For a short while Janne thinks she'll have a normal life. Kristin encourages her to get a job. Janne hasn't finished secondary school, and has no qualifications. A letter of recommendation from Adventkirken school enables Janne to apply for jobs.

"For three years she had sole responsibility for her mother who was in part seriously ill. The mother was admitted to hospital, and Janne M. Lothe nursed her after the hospitalisation. She was responsible for making the home work with regards to cleaning, shopping and cooking. At home there was also a younger brother", writes Sigrun Eckhoff, headmaster at Adventkirken school in the letter of recommendation from 1991.

Bergen county hires Janne as a substitute home care worker. She looks forward to every working day. She hoovers, cooks and cares for elderly and ill people. The stories the elderly tell her make her laugh. The eighteen-year-old is used to hard work. She has cared for her entire family as long as she can remember.

Dear Kristin

Do you know where I've been today thanks to YOU? I've been at work! Do you hear? I HAVE A JOB! I'm so happy. And it's all because of YOU. Oooooh I could hug you to death Kristin! (…) It helps my confidence a lot to have something necessary to do. To be able to help others, while at the same time helping oneself.

Janne gets a salary, and starts going out on the town. The girlfriends get dressed up, drink at home before going out to places like places like Sjøboden, Lilliken and Theatercafeen. Boys flock to Janne, and buy her drinks.

SUMMER NIGHT: On the midsummer night of 1992 Kristin and Janne go to Laksevåg to see the bonfire and go to a concert. This is one of the last pictures that is taken of the best friends before Janne isolates herself completely for three years.

The stepfather now lives in a flat downtown. Several times Janne and her friends stop by on their way to town. He gives them alcohol.

But Janne's friends react to his behaviour. The touching. The stares. He wants Janne to sit on his lap. Her girlfriends think it's creepy. Janne is 18 when she writes a letter about her conflicting emotions about her stepfather:

Dear Kristin

"(He) who almost forced his personal feelings/problems onto me, laughed at my fear of their alcohol consumption (his and mum's) at home, and who eventually, together with mum, wanted to use me as a replacement for the closeness they no longer had."

The joy of working doesn't last long. The mother strongly disapproves of Janne being away all day caring for others. After six months Janne quits her job. She is physically weakened by an eating disorder, and the mother demands so much from her that she is no longer able to combine it with working. Janne is put on disability allowance due to psychological problems.

At 20 years old, Janne makes a final attempt at getting away from home and making a life for herself. She moves in with her friend Evy Sæthre in a flat close to Bergen bus station. Evy writes in her diary that the girls celebrate by partying all weekend. Janne meets new friends, and is in a good mood.

But Ronny, who just turned 16, calls Janne again and again on the phone. He is getting high, he is hungry, he is scared. Their mother is sick, he can't take responsibility for her alone. Janne does not feel she has a choice. A year and a half later, she moves back to her mother and brother. She has to take care of Ronny.

"It was completely dark in there, like in a cave.

I told her 'You have to get out of here.

It'll break you'."

Ronny, 2013

The mother deteriorates even further, and is bed-ridden most of the time. Janne does what she has always done. Changes bandages, cleans her mother and gets her pills, food and booze. She herself eats less and less. The mood is sombre.

Ronny disappears into a heroin daze. Sometimes he really disappears and is gone for days. He lives on the street, sleeps on the hot air vent by Sentralbadet, the town swimming pool. Ronny remembers life on the street as far better than that at home.

Her friends are Janne's last link to a normal life. But Janne stops showing up for their coffee dates. Then she no longer picks up the phone. Friends and relatives show up at the flat, knock on the door to see how they are holding up in there. Usually nobody responds. In a letter to Kristin, Janne tries to explain:

Dear Kristin

"I hope you haven't taken my inaccessibility personally. It's just something I need sometimes. (…) These periods of mine are often of a somewhat depressed nature, but not enough to make me go under. (…) I have, in a moment of despair, asked my psychologist about this. Apparently it's a completely normal reaction to my life, and something I have to live with and come to terms with. And not be ashamed about, like I normally would be."

Then the last letter Kristin saves in her shoe box arrives :

Dear Kristin

"It won't be long now until I'm once again ready for action on the weekends, you just watch, soon I'll be at your door, "all" 43 kilos of me [6st 11lbs]... A ridiculously low weight, isn't it? Don't be afraid. As soon as my stomach is well, I have some serious fattening up to do! Oooh, how I'm going to pig out! (…)

Otherwise I can tell you my mood is great! And that I think the future looks really bright! Take care you, my hero/most special friend. We'll see each other very soon now.

Greetings from an optimistic fairy.

Janne keep throwing up most of what she is eating. Her weight continues to plummet. The mother often refuses to let her go out, and Janne has given up fighting. Eventually, Janne stops answering the phone. She can't face talking to anyone. Kristin calls Janne over and over again. She goes to the flat and knocks on the door, she sends letter upon letter. But there's no response.

EATING DISORDER: Janne suffers from anorexia and bulimia from the time she is fourteen. At twenty-four she writes in a letter to her best friend that she weighs 43 kilos [6st 11lbs].

Bente Liland, the children's nurse from the Home for Mothers, is one of the last people outside the family to be allowed entry to the home. Janne's mother sits slumped over in a wheelchair, surrounded by mess and rubbish. Liland is concerned about Janne's health, because she is so gaunt.

"No wonder Janne has stopped eating, when the stepfather has been "on" her the way he has,” the mother responds when Liland comments on how thin Janne is.

For more than three years Janne and the mother isolate themselves completely. When Janne on rare occasion has to go out for food, she hurries back home. The only person they let in is Ronny. He is heavily addicted to drugs, hangs around Nygårdsparken and sleeps at Bergenshjemmet. Rather a homeless shelter than the depressing flat, Ronny thinks.

Ronny tries to get Janne to move out. He can see that the isolated life with their mother is making her sick.

Janne has taken very little food over a long period of time. On 21 June 2000 she collapses on the floor of the front room, 27 years old.

"Call an ambulance," Ronny yells. The mother panics. Ronny pushes her into a chair to shut her up. Then he places his sister in the recovery position and calls the emergency services.

Minutes later emergency lights are flashing and the two of them are on their way to the hospital. Ronny holds Janne's hand the entire journey.

In the admittance papers the hospital notes: "The patient states to be the only member of the family who doesn't drink or abuse alcohol. Feels she exists just to take care of her family. Pays bills and makes sure the family doesn't end up on the street. Woke up this morning happy about the nice weather and was about to walk into the front room when she collapsed".

Her background is briefly summarised:

"The patient has been abused".

One day later, just before nine PM, the event that is going to change her life forever takes place. Janne is talking to a nurse when she suddenly freezes up and falls unconscious.

Her lips turn blue.

Then her heart stops beating.

Read the rest of the story about the Eliassen family here: bt.no/janne/del2.

SOURCES: The story is based on interviews with Janne Mai Lothe Eliassen, Ronny Arne Lothe Eliassen, Kristin Whitehouse (Janne’s friend), Janne’s stepfather who is also Ronny’s father, Dagmar Løndal (Janne’s closest relative, cousin of her late mother), former children’s nurse Bente Liland, former chief of police in Laksevåg, Harald Andersen, Øyvind Christiansen (who has written a dissertation on the role of the child protection services), senior consultant Carmen Escobar Kvitting at BUP, Dag Skilbred (child protection consultant in Laksevåg from 1982 to 1987), former headmaster Sigrun Eckhoff at Adventkirken skole, Andrew Liddle (Janne’s and Ronny’s mother’s ex-husband), Ena Liddle (Andrew Liddle’s current wife, former nanny to Janne’s and Ronny’s step-siblings), Turid Liddle (Janne’s and Ronny’s step-sister), Evy Sæthre (Janne’s friend), Christel Dahle (Janne’s friend), several family members, former neighbours at Vadmyra, Rolf Nilsen and Jan Sivertsen (building caretakers at Vadmyra), Janne’s medical records, Janne’s mother’s medical records, Janne’s school records from Adventkirken skole, Janne’s and Ronny’s records from the city archives (including documents from schools, child protection services, social services), information from the National Registry, 11 years of correspondence between Janne and Kristin, Kristin Whitehouse’s diaries.

Text: Ingunn Røren, Ingrid Fredriksen.
Research: Anne E. Hovden.
Photo: Rune Sævig.
Video: Ronald Hole.
Design and programming: Thomas Orten.