In January this year, I had the pleasure of writing a guest blog for Dawn Warwick, Director of Wandsworth Children Services. This blog piece was circulated to my ex-colleagues in children services and the feedback I received was really encouraging. Dawn asked me to share my insight and perspective on Child Sexual Exploitation as I had been in care. According to Barnados one-third of looked after children are sexually exploited and according to ECPAT UK and missing people, more than a quarter of all trafficked children go missing from local authority care. Child Sexual Exploitation is on the rise. It is not only important that as a society we raise awareness of this issue but also look at the circumstances that lead up to a child being at risk of being “vulnerable”.
Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments below on this issue – Yvonne
I was taken into care at 13 years old because of sexual abuse I experienced at home. It was a difficult time in my life; my relationship with my family had broken down resulting in irregular contact with my siblings and by the time I was 14 I attended three different educational establishments because of unmanageable behaviour and moved placement three times. I found it hard to articulate my feelings and because of trust issues and ever-changing staff and social workers, it was hard to form relationships. I dealt with my frustrations by acting out, fighting and breaking things. I found it hard to stay within boundaries set; I was always breaking the rules. I wanted to be anywhere else but in care.
When life became too difficult I would “abscond” as care staff would call it, but it was no big deal. My behaviour was not out of place with many other girls and boys I was in care with at the time. I would stay out past curfew or all night that resulted in me being reporting missing to the police.
My friend had an older boyfriend, he was 28 years old and she introduced me to his friend. We would regularly visit and they would buy us cigarettes, alcohol, weed and take us to parties. As a 15-year-old girl, being given stuff I could not afford made me feel special. During one visit, the friend asked if he could speak to me in another room. Inebriated and high I went with him and it soon became clear what he wanted as he pushed me down on the bed and attempted to undo my jeans. It was only when I shouted at him to get off that my friend burst into the room to help me; they let us leave with little resistance.
That night could have ended so differently and I would like to say the experience taught me a lesson but it did not. I still continued to put myself in risky situations because it was exciting and better than my reality. It was hard living in care having to come to terms with so many different life-changing events in a short space of time. I believe if I had more input into discussions regarding me it would have empowered me to take ownership of my life rather than feeling I had no part of it and influenced me to make better decisions.
In retrospect, I see how I ended up in these scenarios. I was vulnerable, emotionally damaged and had low self-esteem and confidence, I wanted to belong and fit in. Whilst I could not change my environment or circumstances, a stable home and consistent one on one relationships would have helped me be more settled. Group sessions with my peers led by someone with personal insight on navigating the challenges of being in care and workshops on building self-esteem and positive relationships could have made an impact.