Child Sexual Exploitation can happen to children and young people in Devon. These real-life stories may help you to understand how it can happen.

For more information and advice about child sexual exploitation, visit our advice page.

We have several real-life stories of child sexual exploitation below. Names have been changed to protect people’s identities.

My daughter Elizabeth was 13 years old when it started. She was a really well-behaved girl; we had a fantastic mother-daughter relationship. She has had a stable home life and I have always had clear boundaries for what is acceptable behaviour. There was nothing to suggest that she would be in any danger.

It started when Elizabeth was contacted through Facebook by a 20 year old woman who she knew vaguely through a family connection. This person was able to gain Elizabeth’s trust and used her influence to draw my daughter into meeting with her and then a wider group of young people. There were young teenagers aged 13-16 there, a lot of them came from troubled backgrounds. The group also included men and women aged up to their mid-20s.

It seemed as though they had a power over Elizabeth. I realised that while she was with this group they were working on her, brainwashing her against me. It was clear that these young people were being controlled by the older adults – both men and women. I’d hacked into Elizabeth’s Facebook account and saw the messages they would send her – manipulating her with emotional blackmail, veiled threats and saying horrible things about me. I would read messages demanding my daughter leave her home in the middle of the night to meet them.

The first time my daughter went missing it was for three days. The group would meet together and drink and take drugs, and they had convinced my daughter to come along to one of their ‘parties.’ I reported her missing to the police, and when they finally brought her back it was as though her personality had been completely transformed. It was like she had been replaced by this rude, aggressive girl. She would say things like ‘they’re my family, not you’ or ‘you hate my friends but you don’t even know them.’

Elizabeth started to go missing from home at least twice a week. I was out of my mind with worry. I’d report her missing to the police and eventually they’d find her with her ‘friends’ and take her home, drunk, aggressive, fighting, sometimes threatening to kill me. It didn’t matter what I did to keep her in the house, she would be gone – climbing out of windows, sneaking out when I was too tired to stay awake. Her attendance at school dropped. She would just walk straight out of school and go and meet the group.

It is the control they had over her that frightens me the most. Elizabeth’s appearance changed completely. The group would self-harm together as though it was a competition, they would take her out shoplifting. They even convinced her to file a police complaint for assault against me. The police had to investigate, which meant interviewing my other children and asking if I’d ever hurt them. The pain of having that happen to my family is still difficult to bear.

I’d always had a good relationship with my daughter but it was like she’d been cloned. I felt humiliated, powerless. I was working with specialist social workers and police officers to try and manage her behaviour – they were questioning every part of my relationship with her, telling me what I should and shouldn’t do as though I didn’t already know how to be a good parent.

Then after about seven months, Elizabeth came home having gone missing for four days. I knew instantly that something awful had happened. From the snippets of what we’ve learned since, during a ‘party’ one of the men had given her drink and drugs until she passed out, then he raped her.

That was a turning point – it was then that she realised that these people weren’t her friends, but the control they had over her was still there. Gradually, with a lot of work by myself and social workers, we were able to distance my daughter from the influence of the group. Together we are helping her recover, but she has found it so difficult dealing with the guilt of what happened. It resulted in her taking an overdose. I’m just thankful that she survived without any lasting damage.

As time has gone by my daughter will write me letters speaking of the shame she feels for how she behaved and the pain she caused, but she was manipulated at an incredibly vulnerable point in her life by adults who knew exactly what they were doing. A lot of the young people in that group weren’t as lucky as Elizabeth – they didn’t have people at home who could help them understand that they were being taken advantage of.

My relationship with my daughter now is getting better. Her attendance is up at school and she is staying away from the places where she knows she might run into her old ‘friends.’ Naturally I have real problems trusting her – Elizabeth has no leeway when it comes to going out and she knows I will not hesitate to call the police again if I get a hint that something isn’t right. But we are moving on as a family. I have been supported by a worker from Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation (PACE) who is there solely to help me, whether it’s a quick chat or something more, and it’s a blessing to be able to speak about that part of my life with someone who is not part of the police or social services.

My message to parents is to never be complacent about what your children are doing online or who they are meeting when they go out. Elizabeth was not groomed by an Asian gang; it was a combination of young people around her own age and the adults that manipulated them. She thought they were her friends, but she could not distinguish between normal teenage behaviour among peers and being used and controlled by men and women in their 20s. It can happen to anyone.

When Raj started to feel attracted to men, it seemed as though there was no-one he could talk to. He went on Facebook and met Mike, a 20-year-old university student.

After weeks of chatting online, Mike told Raj he was falling for him and said he’d like Raj to be his boyfriend.

The conversation turned to sex and Mike said he’d love it if Raj sent him a naked picture. Raj sent several pictures.

One morning Mike asked Raj if later that evening he’d use the webcam.

When Raj hesitated, Mike told him that if he didn’t do as he said, he’d send the naked pictures of Raj to Raj’s family and friends.

Raj didn’t want to use the webcam but didn’t want his parents finding out.

He felt so sick that he couldn’t face going back home after school.

When the police found him, Raj couldn’t talk about what happened because he didn’t think the police would understand.

The police woman talked about her work as a Lesbian and Gay Liaison Officer. She then asked Raj if he was OK and Raj told her about Mike and the photos and webcam.

The police investigated and a man living nearby was arrested.

“I was worried about what would happen but the police helped me make a statement.

“They put me in touch with a local group for gay and lesbian kids who gave me the confidence to talk to my parents.

“Ok, dad’s not great with it he says I’m still his son and he loves me no matter what.”

Raj’s story is a fictional account based on the experiences of children in the UK who have been the victims of sexual exploitation

‘Sophie’s’ mum, Linda, has been known to a local violence against women service for a number of years because of the violence she has experienced from multiple partners. Sophie is a white British young woman and she was 13 years old when Linda met Ray. Ray, who was also white British, moved in with Linda and was violent towards both her and her children. Ray began to invite his friends around to the house. They, in turn, were abusive to Linda and her children. Following this, Ray offered Sophie as a sexual commodity to his friends on a regular basis and threatened Linda and Sophie with violence if Sophie did not comply.

Tackling child sexual exploitation – A resource pack for councils

‘Teegan’, a white British young woman, was sexually exploited from the age of 12 years old. From the age of 13 Teegan was taken by a Turkish man to a variety of ‘parties’ across England that she reports were in nice houses and in some cases described as ‘mansions’. In these houses Teegan would be raped by several men, from a range of ethnicities, who were paying to use her. Teegan described a book being available with photographs and ages of all of the girls being sexually exploited by this particular group. Men could choose which girls they wanted. Teegan reported men paying those who were exploiting her up to £500 for an hour with her. Groups of men could also request one girl to share between them over a night, where the rape of the girl would be filmed. The operation involved men working the streets to pick up vulnerable girls, forming ‘relationships’ with them by grooming them and then passing them on to the men who controlled the business. If Teegan ever refused to comply, she would be beaten and her family threatened. Following the abuse, Teegan took several overdoses, was placed in secure accommodation, and self-harmed by cutting and ligaturing sometimes on a daily basis. Teegan described the abuse that she experienced as serious and organised, and is unwilling to make a formal complaint for fear of repercussions from those involved in the operation.

Tackling child sexual exploitation – A resource pack for councils

‘Sahida’, a 17-year-old British Pakistani young woman, made an allegation of sexual abuse against a family member. As a result she was threatened with a forced marriage. Sahida’s family claim they want to remove her from the country to curb her ‘wild behaviour’. Following these threats Sahida began spending time with older males, described by professionals as ‘Asian’, and was moved to multiple locations by them. Sahida is now pregnant as a result of the sexual exploitation she has experienced. Family members have physically assaulted Sahida as a punishment for the pregnancy.

Tackling child sexual exploitation – A resource pack for councils

‘Randall’ is a 15 year old boy, of mixed ethnic heritage, and described by professionals as ‘exploring his sexuality’. He is said to be unaware of safe routes to meeting other gay young people. Professionals report Randall has been seen hanging around at bus stops. He has disclosed to professionals that he has been targeted by groups of men who are grooming him to exchange sex for alcohol, cigarettes and acceptance. Professionals are working with Randall to try to keep him away from areas of risk, but they are aware he continues to go missing and are unable to account for his whereabouts on all occasions.

Tackling child sexual exploitation – A resource pack for councils

Rebecca is a 15-year-old black British girl, and has reported she was forced by a group of girls to have sex with a boy in the girls’ toilets at their school; otherwise they would beat her up. The group of perpetrators were made up of three 14-year-old girls and one 14-year-old boy, all of whom were black British. One of the girls is described as the ‘instigator’ of the assault .Another girl filmed the assault on her mobile phone. The assault took place as part of a pattern of ongoing bullying of Rebecca. She was anally raped by the 14-year-old boy. She had never had sex before this assault.

Tackling child sexual exploitation – A resource pack for councils

‘Mitchell’ is a white British 17 year old boy, and has been known to the youth offending service for several years. From the age of 12 Mitchell was seen spending time with white British men, some of whom were believed to be sexually exploiting young women in the local area. Some of these older males bought Mitchell trainers, taught him how to comb his hair in particular ways and how to speak to girls. The older men also introduced Mitchell to some of the girls that they were sexually exploiting. At one point, he was found locked in a garage where one of the older males had brought young female victims of abuse. Mitchell gradually became involved in the sexual exploitation of young women in the local area, and would pass them onto his older peers.

Tackling child sexual exploitation – A resource pack for councils

John told me he was 23, but the police told me later he was 44.

We became friends because he used to buy us all cigarettes and drinks and that. He let us go round his flat to hang out. We knew he was trying to get with us but we just led him on to get stuff out of him.

One night, he tried to touch me and kiss my mate and we panicked. It kicked off and we had a massive row in the car when we made him take us home.

“I thought I was in control of the situation, but when he got angry, I realised I wasn’t.”

I called the police later that night. My friend didn’t want to. Said we would get in trouble, but I was scared by how angry he’d got. I was worried what my dad would say too, but I didn’t know what else to do.

During their investigation, the police discovered that John had ‘befriended’ several other girls, and made illegal sexual advances to them. John was found guilty and sent to prison for five years

I was good at sport at school. And my family was what you would call ‘normal’.

I met Nick on the internet and thought he was in his mid-twenties. We got on really well and agreed to meet up. As soon as I saw him, I knew something was wrong – he looked about fifty!

I’d invited him to my house when my parents were out and it was clear he was expecting sex or something.

“I felt like I’d led him on and didn’t know how to say no, so I agreed to have sex with him.”

I immediately regretted it and told him I didn’t want to see or speak to him any more. But he wouldn’t leave me alone and kept trying to get in touch. I didn’t know what to do so I told a family friend and the police got involved.

The police identified the man as a local business man. When they seized his computer they discovered that he had been chatting to other under-age young people, telling them he liked ‘young girls’. He frequently tried to meet up with the people he chatted with, for the explicit purposes of having sex with them, even though he knew they were not yet 16.