Pioneering work by a Leeds charity is providing intensive support to women who suffered sexual exploitation as children.
Some have lived chaotic lives, self-medicating with drugs and alcohol as a result of their experiences.
It’s very brave what they did, I think, to fund us.Taylor Austin-Little, Basis Yorkshire
Others now have children of their own and are happily married, with their loved ones totally unaware of the troubles they have carried alone for decades.
Using £52,400 in Home Office funding, Basis Yorkshire was able to appoint Taylor Austin-Little to lead a 12 month pilot scheme offering an independent advocacy and support service to 16 of these women.
Miss Austin-Little said: “Imagine you have had years of bottling up this and everyone telling you this was your choice, and then you realise it wasn’t. You are very vulnerable.
“The biggest thing that came out of it for the women was gaining trust. You can imagine it takes months and months because they’ve had years of not being believed, of blaming.”
The women, aged between 20 and 43, included some of those approached by police as part of Operation Applehall, an investigation reviewing potential historic child sexual exploitation (CSE) cases in the city.
Miss Austin-Little said: “Because it wasn’t in their control when the police came to them, they didn’t have choice again.
“I was using some of the things I used with young people to get them to recognise it wasn’t their fault, it was abuse.”
Some of the women had one-to-one sessions with Miss Austin-Little every few weeks, but others needed almost daily contact in person or by phone.
There were also opportunities to be referred to other support services, with fast-track access to the Women’s Counselling and Therapy Service.
Miss Austin-Little said: “One of the important lessons is it wasn’t necessarily linked to a criminal case. It’s all about giving them choices, options of how the wanted to report it if they did.”
“Some cases have been fully investigated and the police can’t do more, but it was enough for the women to be believed and listened to now.”
As the pilot scheme began to take shape, it soon became clear that they were venturing into a new area of work.
Miss Austin-Little said: “I wanted to look nationally to who I could learn from and what became very apparent was this was very pioneering.
“It’s very brave what they did, I think, to fund us.”
There had been doubts as to whether the scheme could continue after the pilot, but West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner has funded the project for a second year with Jo Hall taking over as advocacy support worker.
It means women who took part in the pilot can keeping receiving support if needed and others on the waiting list can now been offered the chance to get involved.
Miss Austin-Little said it had become clear that this was a crucial area of support that had been lacking until now.
“Young people are very well supported now, but what about the victims who didn’t have teachers, social workers, parents? Jo might be the only support they have,” she said.
An independent evaluation of the pilot by Professor Maggie O’Neill found it had a significant impact on the lives and wellbeing of the 16 women given intensive support in the first year.
It also made a series of recommendations, some of which came from the women’s feedback.
They included a peer support group and a family support worker for the children and partners of the women.
Click here to find out more about Basis Historic CSE Support.