Here’s the next blog in our series marking 16 Days of Activism, galvanising action to end violence against women and girls.
Sherica Spence, founder of Skye Alexandra House, a bespoke service designed to meet the needs of vulnerable women, writes about her personal experience of Child Sexual Exploitation, both as a victim herself and as someone helping other victims.
I started working with victims of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) due to my own experiences as a child. I could relate to the young girls, and hoped that by me sharing my story and how I overcame some of what I had experienced, I might be able to help another young girl – as one of the worst things in life is carrying the cycle of these thoughts, emotions and feelings into your adulthood.
I was sexually abused from the age of 7, then raped at the age of 12. Then gang raped at 15. Due to these experiences I was mentally and emotionally unstable; my mum had no idea of the abuse that took place and took my behaviour as typical teenager behaviour. No matter how many times she asked what was wrong, my response would always be “nothing”. I held resentment towards her as I assumed she should have super-powers and just automatically know that something had happened.
I would steal, shoplift, bunk school to hang around with older girls and boys; I ran away from home a lot, as I was talking to older guys, lying about my age (some knew how old I was), sleeping with them – just so I had somewhere to stay when I ran away.
I drank as I felt more confident with alcohol and I smoked cigarettes and weed. I had my son when I was 17 years old. Me having him made me realise that I had to do everything to protect him from ever experiencing anything that had happened to me. But it did not change my behaviour.
As a teenaged mum I was still broken and scarred from what had happened, so I raved Monday-Sunday and this lifestyle was fuelled on drinks, sex and stronger drugs, and much more troubling behaviour – all to cover up how I truly felt inside.
It wasn’t until I started working with young people that I was forced to face what I was running from – and that is where my healing process started.
Case study 1
I am currently working with a 13 year old girl and her family. The young girl was raped in November 2015 by a boy in her school; at the time she was in Year 7 and he was in Year 9. The incident was recorded and uploaded to Snapchat.
She is now suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression, she is self-harming, hearing voices and seeing things. She is not currently attending school, as they have deemed her to be ‘emotionally unstable’. The effect that this incident is having on her mental well-being is very distressing to her – not to mention the prescription drugs which she has to take just to help her ‘cope’, and the effect that they could be having on her young brain. She is currently undergoing 25 weeks of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Case Study 2
Another girl is 16 year old. She was sexually abused at the age of 11, and develped fears of going to the toilet at night, as her abuse took place as she was coming out of the bathroom. This meant that she would wet the bed.
She was a regular absconder who would go missing for weeks on ends from home and school, transporting drugs for guys who paid her with either new trainers or money. She would also get given gifts such as a mobile phone and a debit card. She was always high on drugs and sexually active with multiple partners, which led to her catching STDs. This young girl was broken – when you asked her why, her response was that she just wanted to feel loved.
The majority of young girls who are victims/survivors of CSE will give you the same response – they wanted to feel loved.
Predators prey on the vulnerability of young girls, ensuring that they make it known how much they care for them, as their main focus is getting young girls to believe that nobody else cares but them.
Once they have this control and power, they will start asking the young girls for ‘favours’, suggesting “If you love me like you claim you do, then you will do this for me.” These favours can be anything from transporting drugs to providing sexual favours to them or to their friends.
The world of CSE is much darker then you can imagine, and I wish this was a visual blog, as I feel at times that writing about it does not give a clear picture. Words cannot describe the fear, the hurt, the pain and the abuse that some of these young girls experience – all because they wanted someone to love and care for them.
Some young girls are now being initiated into gangs by being raped. Can you imagine wanting to be a part of something so badly that you feel that you have to go through that – just to feel wanted?
Skye Alexandra House
At Skye Alexandra House, we provide semi-independent residential care for young girls aged 16-18 who are either at risk or victims of CSE. In the home we have a supportive team of qualified specialists who work with our young girls on the trauma which they have experienced. We do workshops looking at abuse and personal well-being, life skills and more.
We also deliver workshops to secondary schools on Sexual Exploitation and Domestic Violence, and Social Media Awareness showing young girls (and boys) how easy it is to be groomed through social media, explaining to them the dangers of sexting and posting sexual images, as well as teaching them about consent.
Our aim is to enable a generation of young girls and women to realise their potential and power, introducing them to opportunities and helping them realise that your past does not have to determine your future.
It is important that we continue to raise awareness around sexual exploitation, as it is happening all around us. It’s vital that parents, teachers and professionals know how to spot a child who Is possibly being sexually exploited.