Real stories offer unique view on moving on from exploitation

Child sexual exploitation victims will be given a voice today as they share powerful accounts of their experiences for the first time.

A still from the Breaking Through animation, created in support of the project by Basis Yorkshire and the University of York.

Two teenage girls, three women and an 18-year-old man detail some of the darkest days in their lives but also speak about how they have moved on.

Their stories are at the heart of the Breaking Through project, which seeks to educate both frontline professionals and young people by offering advice from those who best understand the realities of child sexual exploitation (CSE).

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During an event in Leeds this afternoon, charity Basis Yorkshire and researchers from the University of York will present the collection of deeply personal stories shared with them.

Dr Kate Brown, chairwoman of Basis and a social policy and crime researcher at the university, said Breaking Through offered a unique perspective on the issue.

“It’s widely recognised that the voices of those who experience CSE often get lost or overlooked in policy,” she said.

“We were keen to do a piece of work which was research informed and started to get the voices out there in a safe and controlled way.”

Some of those sharing their stories had been abused as younger children and later went on to be groomed as teenagers, while others had become involved in the care system.

A number of those who took part are now parents themselves, with the oldest participant – a 43-year-old woman – recounting how she had kept her past experiences secret from her loving husband until very recently.

Dr Brown said: “I think one of the themes that really comes out is that although there’s a lot of really good support from services out there, there were various experiences of young people feeling they were blamed in some way for their behaviour or circumstances.

“What we’re trying to do is get an understand of young people’s perspectives out there to inform policy and practice.”

Two key resources have been created as part of the project – one aimed at professionals in the field and the other the wider public.

For the latter, an animation using extracts from the stories was created by a group of young people who are working with Basis after experiencing CSE themselves.