“I thought that he was in love with me and I thought I was in love with him,” says Jasmine.
She was a teenager under 16 when she began being groomed by her abuser. Her name has been changed to protect her identity but her harrowing story is one that, dejectedly, is very real.
Her abuser began showing an interest soon after he started dating her mother.
“He would give me compliments telling me I looked beautiful and that if I ever needed anyone to talk to, then he would always be there.”
She recalls him telling her he felt “weak at the knees” when he saw her. Now she feels sick to think, but at the time, it felt like a compliment.
He later revealed he had feelings for Jasmine. She turned him down at first but he contacted her to say how upset he was and, after he came across “nice and genuine” on a family day out, she later agreed to give him a chance.
“At first I said I wasn’t ready to have sex but he told me ‘I am a fully grown man and I need sex. If you don’t give it to me then I’ll have to go elsewhere to get it.’
“He told me that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me and that he’d marry me,” she adds.
Over time, he became very controlling, not wanting her to see friends, insisting she close down her social media accounts and not letting her wear the clothes she wanted.
Jasmine’s mum became suspicious, but “he told her she was mental and denied that anything was going on, telling her that he wanted to be a dad to me... When things got really bad and my mum was on his back, he said that we should commit suicide together so that nobody could stop us from being together. I did actually consider it but something inside of me told me not to.”
After she turned 16, Jasmine moved in with her abuser. “I didn’t see much of my family anymore as he’d turned me against them. I became very lonely. I couldn’t tell anyone about what was going on,” she recalls.
Jasmine had suffered a miscarriage after falling pregnant soon after their ‘relationship’ first began. When she went to hospital for medical attention, she made up a story that she had a one night stand with a boy her own age.
“I tried to stay strong and did everything I could to stay with my abuser so that we could have a healthy child together. It was that which enabled him to keep me for so long,” she says.
They did go on to have a daughter, a decision that proved to be a real turning point for Jasmine, and one that made her realise she needed to seek help.
“She changed everything. Having her gave me so much strength. I had a reason to get up every day, I wanted to give her the best life possible... I soon started to question things. Imagining my daughter in a relationship with a man old enough to be her dad (as a teenager) made me feel sick.”
It wasn’t until several years later, knowing then she had been sexually exploited, that Jasmine finally found the strength to speak out, fearing for her daughter’s safety. She confided in her mum and together they contacted children’s charity the NSPCC, who advised them to go to the police.
“If it wasn’t for the NSPCC, my daughter and I may still have been in danger today,” she says. Her abuser was jailed for 15 years for offences against her and another victim.
“It finally felt like I had been heard,” she says. “It felt like the girl, my old self, she was finally being recognised. When I was sat there I was feeling for that girl, it wasn’t really for me. It was weird.
“And the other strange thing was everyone was around me who I had lost during those years... they were all sat around me at the time when the judge was reading everything out. They were all holding my hand and just holding me and crying. It was just very, very emotional.”
Now in her 20s and at university, Jasmine, who receives therapy for complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, wants to become a psychologist to help others who have been through childhood trauma. “I feel like this is the first time where I’m actually living,” she says.
She is sharing her story in the hope of helping others who may be at risk of or who are experiencing abuse. She is also urging people to look out for signs including a child isolating themselves from friends, family and school and becoming withdrawn, anxious and tired and says it is vital that people with concerns for a child raise them, as “it could save lives”.
“I would like to tell anyone who is suspicious that a child is being sexually exploited to speak out and insist that something is done,” she says, adding that she, like many children, did not realise she was being sexually exploited.
“At the time, I felt in love with him and I think because he isolated me from everyone else, I relied on him deeply and he had turned me against my family. I felt like he was the only person in the world that I had, so I was frightened of losing him as well.”
To children who realise they are victims, speak out she says, “because you’re protecting yourself but not only yourself, other people as well”. “Don’t listen to what your abuser is telling you because they don’t love you and they will just cause devastation to your life. It might be really difficult now but you’ll get through this with the correct support and help.”
The Childline service, founded by Dame Esther Rantzen in 1986 and provided by the NSPCC, is one place to which children can turn.
And since its launch in Leeds in 1997, a support team in the city has delivered more than 215,000 counselling sessions to children and young people across the country. Since 2011, Childline in Leeds has been online – with counsellors taking a mixture of one-to-one chats on a messenger service and emails.
For the first time, the office is now introducing an email-only shift on Monday afternoons to deal with the volume of emails coming in over the weekend – and it is in need of volunteers.
On a typical shift, counsellors are given a briefing from the shift supervisor, before taking contact from children talking about anything from friendship issues, to exam stress, being bullied, family arguments, mental health issues and being abused.
“Every young person, what they want to talk about is massive to them at that given moment in time,” Darren Worth, a senior supervisor at Childline Leeds. “But clearly within that, there are various risks right through to the high level, high complexity, very harrowing, very upsetting and distressing contacts.”
Volunteers will be helped to manage that and will be debriefed and given emotional support before going home.
“Those children and young people like Jasmine are the reason why we are here. They’re the ones that absolutely need that support and they need it in a specialised and thoughtful way. I guess for every counsellor that comes through the door at Childline, the reason they come is that they want to make a very tangible and real difference to a young person’s life.”
It is no exaggeration to say that, at times, they save lives.
The Monday afternoon shift will be held between 1pm and 4.30pm.
Seven volunteers are needed to take emails from vulnerable children and young people. Training will be given and they do not need previous counsellor experience. They are required to give a minimum of one year following training and to commit to a regular weekly shift.
Counsellors aim to empower young people, exploring who they can trust and who might be able to support them, Darren says.
Childline also works closely with organisations including emergency services, social services, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and Child Exploitation Online Police if referrals need to be made following disclosures. All volunteer posts are advertised on the NSPCC website.
To contact Childline, call 0800 1111 or visit childline.org.uk