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Child sexual exploitation (CSE): Faith’s story

Faith, 20, bravely tells her story of being sexually exploited as a child.

Content Warning

This page contains a detailed account of someone’s experience of being sexually exploited, which some readers may find distressing. It also contains references to mental health problems including eating disorders.

Please also be aware that this is one person’s story. Child sexual exploitation (CSE) happens in many different ways and may not be reflective of all experiences.

How it all started

I found the transition to secondary school very difficult. Going from primary school with one teacher, one classroom and a set routine to a massive school with older students who I seemed as intimidating, different teachers and lots of new people was a very frightening time for me. I struggled to make friends and I struggled in lessons due to my dyslexia which I had been diagnosed with as a child.

I began to truant from school. Instead of going to school, I would stay at home and go on the internet or hang around the local area. I felt lonely and wanted to make new friends so to try to make new friends, I started to use chat rooms. I spoke to different kinds of people on these chat rooms, many of them were much older than me.

At the age of twelve, I was groomed online by several older men. These men were friendly.

They filled me with compliments and listened to me. I felt special! They made me feel as if I was important. I believed they cared about me.

When the conversations became sexual

After a period of them grooming me, the conversations quickly turned from kind, caring and understanding messages to controlling and sexually explicit messages.

As well as speaking to these men online, I also spoke to them through text and the occasional phone call. The men asked me to send naked pictures of myself and to take my clothes off in front of the webcam. I thought these men were my friends and I wanted to make them happy so I did as they asked. Little did I know that one of the older men that I was speaking to, was part of a paedophile ring who passed on my mobile number to other older men.

Some people reading this may be thinking ‘why did you just not send the pictures?’.

Well, that’s a good question. I was naïve. I was vulnerable, a child and I was groomed to believe that it was the right thing to do.

‘He said he loved me’

One of the men I had spoken to online lived locally. He groomed me via text and phone calls for five months before we met.

When we did meet, he gave me cigarettes, money and alcohol.

I would get taxis to his friend’s flat, paying for the taxis with the money he gave me. Sometimes he would pick me up from a local park which was away from the house so my parents would not get suspicious of me getting into a random car. He would drive fast with loud electronic music blasting out, the windows open and my hair blowing in my face. We would chat, talk about how much I hated school and when we got to the flat we would just chill watching TV and listening to music.

He encouraged me to try cannabis and he said it would help me feel calm when I got anxious. He bought me posh bottles of red wine. I would gulp the glasses down and the bottle would be empty then there would be another bottle empty and another.

He asked me to be his girlfriend and that we’d get married when I was older. He said he loved me.

Life became a living nightmare

Sex isn’t something you should think about at the age of thirteen. At the age of thirteen, you should be spending time with friends going shopping and to the cinema, having sleepovers and ordering takeaways and watching film box sets all night.

My ‘boyfriend’ who was more than twice my age expected me to return sexual favours for the gifts and kindness he gave me. Usually, I was too drunk or too high to know exactly what was going on around me. Reality often drifted away and I would wake up in a bed which wasn’t my own in my underwear, my clothes on the floor. Sometimes his friend would be at the flat too and sometimes there were more friends there. They were all older and all intimidating. Some of the men took hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

I was on my own and life was just going by in slow motion.

Life became a living nightmare. A nightmare which I could not wake up from. What began as me going on the internet looking for friends turned into four years of abuse, exploitation, violence and trafficking. If I could, I would have just walked away. Lose contact, get away and be free.

I received threats on a daily basis from my perpetrators. Threats not to just hurt myself but also threats to hurt my family. The threats included setting my house on fire, physically hurting family members etc. if I did not do what they wanted me to do.

Going out to meet and have sex with men became a normality for me. Every time I thought about fighting back, the threats would whizz around my head. I could not let anyone else be hurt.

Getting out

Getting away from my perpetrators wasn’t easy. During the four years of abuse I had been involved in health and social care services as well as the police.

I was reluctant to any kind of help because at first, I did not think anything was wrong and later on into the abuse, I had become reliant on my perpetrators for drugs and alcohol.

At the age of sixteen, I found myself in a very dark and bleak place. My mental health was the worst it had ever been. I had a major relapse into my anorexia which had been a struggle since the age of fourteen. My poor, bruised and scarred body could not take any more torture. I finally started to see that what was going on was not normal. It’s like my blurred vision of life had been fixed. It wasn’t something that happened overnight.

I slowly started taking small steps to gain some normality but there were also bigger steps that needed to happen such as moving house to get away from my perpetrators and getting a new SIM card as well as a new phone so my perpetrators could no longer contact me.

When something has been in your life for so long, as nasty and as horrible as it was, it was very difficult to try to gain some normality and to experience a world which was free from abuse.

It wasn’t an easy process and it took me a long, long time to accept specialist help which I desperately needed.

Moving on with my life

I am trying to move on with my life. My case is still being investigated and I am now aware that I was not the only young person to become under their trap. I am lucky enough to have an amazing support network of friends and family who are able to pick me up when I’m down. I have a full-time job which I love and in the future I hope to go to University.

I have my good days and my bad days like everyone else. Due to my experiences of child sexual exploitation (CSE), I have ongoing mental health difficulties which are agonising and debilitating. I am slowly finding more ways of expressing my emotions and using healthy coping mechanisms instead of unhealthy, destructive coping mechanisms.

I really believe my future is bright.

Deciding to write about my experiences was a big decision to make. I am not ashamed of my past but I struggle to accept it. There is more awareness of CSE now than there was when I was being exploited which is good but still, there are thousands of young people still being taken advantage off. By sharing my story, I hope to raise more awareness and to help people who are feeling that life will not get better.

Life will get better and you will achieve so many greats things in life so carry on, fighting, being brave but most importantly being a survivor!

My advice

If you believe you may be experiencing CSE, it is very important to talk to someone who you trust, for example:

  • A family member
  • A member of staff at school
  • Another professional you may come into contact with like a nurse

It will feel scary talking to someone about what is going on but there are people out there who want to help you.

Everyone has the human right to feel safe and have a good quality of life. There are a lot of charities out there who you can speak to if you are concerned about CSE. The charities can provide you with a lot of information, support and advice for any concerns you may have regarding CSE. Early intervention is key!

Advice for professionals

If you are a professional working with children and young people who you believe are to be at risk of or experiencing CSE, you need to act straight away. If you see something, don’t turn away and not report it or report it later on. Report it as soon as you see something!

Get Help

Child Sexual Exploitation is against the law. You can report an incident of CSE to the police by calling 999. You can also contact your Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) for help.

If you have questions or are worried about you or a friend being sexually abused read our page on getting help with abuse for further information.

You can also contact the following organisations:

Contact Childline through their website or call them for free on 0800 1111
Visit the STOPCSE website for information and guidance
Visit the Barnardo’s website for information and guidance
The Internet Watch Foundation can help remove images of CSE from the internet

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