Sadie was referred to The Haven after she was groomed online and sexually exploited as a young girl. She was 14 when her teacher raised concerns with the safeguarding team that she was communicating with an older man online. She talks about how The Haven helped her to deal with the abuse, build her confidence and aspire for a better life.
At the age of 14, I was very shy and timid. I was being bullied at my school. It was an all-girls school and I felt isolated and did not have many friends. They would tease me all the time and call me names. I tried speaking to my mum about it, but I do not think she understood how terrible things were. I began spending more time online where I was able to make friends with some nice people who made me feel good about myself. I felt seen even though I was invisible online. There was one boy who turned out to be a catfish. He was a much older man. But he was so nice to me. He would pay me compliments and when I told him what was going on in school, he told me how to handle the bullies. The advice worked because for a while the bullying and name-calling stopped. I was thankful and thought I was safe with him, but I was wrong.
My teacher raised concerns with the safeguarding team at my school when she overheard me talking fondly about the older man I had met online. I would talk about it because I realised that somehow it made me interesting and cool. People who would not usually talk to me suddenly wanted to find out all about my older online “boyfriend”. The school tried to investigate but I panicked when the safeguarding team came to speak to me. I refused to engage with them. I told them it was all a joke, so the investigation was closed. But my mother was alerted. She too tried to talk to me but at that point, he had convinced me that our relationship should be a secret kept between the two of us. The online grooming continued, and I eventually met him in person. Then things quickly spiralled out of my control.
He told me that he cared about me. He said if I kept our little secret, he would help me meet more people and make more friends. I believed him and was extremely excited. Little did I know.
At the age of 15, my mother began to suspect that something was not right. I would leave the house in my uniform but would not make it to school. The school raised concerns about my absences and my mum sought professional help because I refused to talk to her. I did not think she would understand. We were attending a multi-agency sexual exploitation meeting when she shared that she suspected I was pregnant. I was shocked and I still do not know what caused her suspicions, but a pregnancy test confirmed that I was.
At this point, it was so hard for me to trust anyone enough to tell them what was really going on. I was scared. I just kept thinking about all the things he said to me. The compliments and expressions of love and care had become threats to my life and the lives of my loved ones. He told me I owed him for making the bullying stop. My silence was needed to protect everyone concerned. Or so I thought.
A Child Sexual Exploitation Officer worked extremely hard to break this wall of silence. When she managed to gain my trust, she helped me understand the danger I was in. I felt comfortable enough to share with her that I was being coerced into having a sexual relationship with an older man. He would assault and rape me at his will. But sadly, he was not the only one. The friends he had promised he would help me make turned out to be other older men too. He was taking me to various places and forcing me to have unprotected sex with these men. They paid him.
At the time I had never heard of trafficking before, but I knew what was happening to me was wrong. Yet it felt like I had no way out. The Child Sexual Exploitation Officer tried to help me get a harbouring order to stop him from contacting me. It turned out that he had other offences on record and was on bail for grooming and child sex exploitation offences. He was arrested by the police.
I missed him. I was naïve enough to think that we could make a life together with our baby. I did not understand the gravity of what happened to me. I was referred to The Haven by the police. I gave birth to a healthy baby boy. DNA tests were conducted but he was not my child’s father.
At The Haven, I was supported by a Children and Young People’s Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ChISVA). We developed a good relationship, and I began to share more with her. One day I broke down completely. When I reflected on everything that had happened to me, I blamed myself. I struggled to understand why I allowed things to go as far as they did without speaking to anyone. I felt like a failure and knew I had let my mother down. I was also becoming very anxious and frustrated about not knowing the identity of my child’s father. I would have flashbacks to all the times I was raped wondering which of those moments my son was conceived in.
The ChISVA helped me to understand the various forms of abuse and how I was manipulated and exploited. She referred me to The Haven’s counselling services for additional support. I also learned all about healthy boundaries and consent. I now understand that what happened to me was not my fault and I feel more confident. The Haven has really helped me to understand that I can aspire for more out of life because I am worthy and I deserve better. I now know what to do if I find myself in a similar position again. I used to be so afraid to leave the house, but I have now started to go back out again. I was even able to take my son to the park!
I was offered a space in The Haven’s Mother and Baby yoga sessions and their Wellbeing Programme. I have also completed programmes on online safety and building healthy relationships.
I have continued to work on becoming a better version of myself as I prepare for my GCSE exams. It is important to me that my son is proud of me, and I will do whatever I need to do to ensure this. I am now also fully cooperating in the criminal investigation of the perpetrator. I hope that justice will be served to stop him from hurting someone else.
Sadie’s name has been changed to protect her identity. Images are for illustration purposes only.