Sarah’s story – brave CSE survivor speaks out to help prevent others falling victim
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A brave survivor of child sexual exploitation (CSE) has told her story in the hope of raising awareness and helping prevent others falling victim.
Sarah (not her real name) was groomed and abused by an older peer when she was just 15. In this video she talks of her experience of being plied with gifts, drugs and alcohol - and explains how she was then sexually abused on multiple occasions.
With support from the Force’s RISE (Reducing Incidents of Sexual Exploitation) team, she has turned her life around and now has hopes of becoming a police officer.
Olivia Candy, the RISE Engagement worker who supported Sarah for 18 months, said: “When Sarah was referred into RISE in October 2019 there were significant concerns for her welfare. She was frequently missing overnight, associating with gang members, using Class A drugs such as cocaine, and regularly using cannabis.
“Sarah was associating with older peers and was struggling with her mental health. Within her story, she mentions multiple ‘push and pull factors’ – ‘push’ factors are the vulnerabilities or issues that ‘push’ the young person towards the perpetrator. This may include children who have been the victim of physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and emotional abuse and/or a child who has low self-esteem or experiences bullying.
“The ‘pull’ factors are the grooming techniques used to gain the child’s attention, admiration and affection, which often taps into insecurities or a desire for acceptance and status by the young person.
“These may include receiving alcohol, drugs, money or gifts, and/or being offered somewhere to stay where there are no rules or boundaries. An example of this is where Sarah discusses being bought McDonalds, going to hotels in different areas of the UK and being given drugs and alcohol. She was then sexually abused.
“All these are classic features of CSE. I am so proud of Sarah, both for the way she has turned her life around and for bravely telling her story to help others.”
Detective Sergeant Gary Turvey, from the RISE team said: “When we talk about CSE, let’s be very clear – we are talking about child sexual abuse. This is a crime that can affect any child, anytime, anywhere, regardless of their background, culture, gender, age, or ethnicity.
“One of the problems when engaging children and young people in this context is that often, they do not see themselves as victims and will not raise the alarm to get help. This is why we all have a duty to be aware of the signs which may indicate a child is at risk, and to speak out if you see them so we can safeguard the young person and bring offenders to justice.”
Detective Superintendent Dave Lawson, the Force’s Prevention and Intervention lead added: “The best form of protection is prevention. We are committed to preventing crime and harm before it happens. The bravery Sarah has shown in sharing her story to prevent others falling victim to the same fate is inspiring and I am confident it will go a long way to raise awareness and encourage reporting and will I hope embolden victims of this appalling crime to speak up and seek support.”
CSE warning signs
Over time, grooming changes a child's behaviour. The problem is that these changes can look a lot like typical teenage behaviour. Pace (Parents Against Child Exploitation) suggests getting advice if your child exhibits three or more of the following warning signs:
- Becomes especially secretive/stops seeing their usual friends/has really sharp, severe mood swings.
- Develops relationships with older men and/or women (although not all perpetrators are older).
- Goes missing from home and is reluctant to say where they have been or what they have been doing.
- Stays out all night.
- Receives calls and messages from outside their normal circle of friends.
- Has new, expensive items that they couldn't afford, such as mobile phones, iPods or jewellery - as well as 'invisible' or 'virtual' gifts such as phone credit and online gaming credits.
- Suddenly changes their taste in dress or music.
- Looks tired or unwell and sleeps at unusual hours.
- Has marks or scars on their body, which they try to hide.
- Starts using a different 'street language' or name.
- Specific dress style
- Associating with new groups of people, but giving little information about them
- Poor behaviour
- Talking differently – new slang or language with an aggressive tone
- Poor school results or skipping school
- Carrying weapons
- Unexplained injuries or sums of money/possessions
- Staying out unusually late, or not returning
- Graffiti style tags on possessions
- Interest in music which glorifies weapons/gang culture
At least half of all CSE happens online – follow this guidance to help keep children safe from online abuse:
Anyone who has concerns about the safety of a young person should call the child safeguarding line on 0300 126 1000 or Northamptonshire Police on 101. If a child is in immediate danger, always call 999. If you suspect somebody is sexually exploiting a child, or think someone you know may be at risk, visit our How to report possible child abuse page. If you're deaf or hard of hearing, use our textphone service on 18001 101.