Natalie, now 20, is one of the woman who has shared her story as part of the Breaking Through project.
This is her account of what is was like to experience child sexual exploitation as a teenager.
“I was sexually abused by my dad until the age of 13 and when it came out they didn’t believe me, didn’t offer me a medical, interview or anything. They took me back home and I lived there for eight months more. I was overdosing a lot and the doctors refused to discharge me back home from hospital – I wasn’t safe.
“My dad stayed in the family and I was chucked out. I went into care when I was 13 and was moved quite a lot. There were loads of placements – about 10 or 15 in the north and south of England, even as far as Scotland. I kept putting myself at risk and running away.
“When I was around the age of 14 some guy pulled up in a car and started asking me stuff. At first I didn’t want to, but then he offered to buy me things and I didn’t have any money as I was in care. I was underage for smoking, and they could get me cigs. I wasn’t expecting much more and I didn’t really understand it. But then got it more serious with drugs and stuff – he made me take coke and I didn’t want to take it, and sleep with guys. They followed me around and watched what I was doing.
“I was trying to tell people what was going on but no one was listening. I got more involved and was just sleeping with people, taking drugs, drink and getting cigs. I’d take anything they gave me – you didn’t even know what it was because they shoved up it your nose.
“I was running away a lot. The police used to pick me up when I was walking back. They used to be horrendous – calling me names for running away and wasting their time. I found it bizarre they were like that.
“One day, I was minding my own business and the care home manager goes, ‘Right, go and pack a bag. You’re going away for a few days.’ He said it was because of how I’d been, and that it would give me some respite. I went up to Scotland and it was literally a bungalow in the middle of nowhere.
“I wasn’t allowed a telly – it was more like discipline. I asked for the radio on in the car on the way there but wasn’t allowed. They gave me a Rubik’s cube and that was it. I wasn’t allowed cigs so I was outside picking all the doggers. Then I tried running away and I ended up... I don’t know where.
“Next they found a place in a children’s home. I tried to delay them by getting arrested, but it didn’t work. I told them I didn’t want to be there. As we were going I threw something at the van. The team manager just carried on driving so I turned round and smashed a glass door with my hand. I got rushed to hospital to have an operation. They knew I’d run away and wouldn’t look after my hand so I was put in secure accommodation.
“I hated it in secure at first. They said it was only going to be two months. Originally, social care said they didn’t want a psychological assessment, but when we were back in court going for another order they said they did. They could have done that in the first two months. They were messing me about and trying to keep me there as long as possible.
Moving on from CSE
“The first year supported housing for care leavers was hectic. Running away, overdosing, self-harming – everything I could do, I did. I didn’t know what was going on and everything got on top of me. I didn’t talk to anyone about the secure children’s home and got back involved with the guys quite seriously.
“Then one day they said: ‘Once you get to a certain age we’re not interested anymore.’ I didn’t understand. He said: ‘You’re too old, you don’t need us no more.’ They walked away to look for other people. I said: ‘So you’ve put me through all this and then you’re just going to walk away like nothing’s happened?’ He said yes.
“When the supported housing staff said ‘We’re not going to give up on you,’ I didn’t believe them. Then they started showing they weren’t going to give up on me, regardless of whatever I threw at them. I am where I am today because of them. They always made the effort to talk to me, take me out and support me. At that time in my life they were round nearly every day.
“Then, when it got nearer to my 18th a light bulb clicked. Social care would not be there – you have to grow up and get on with your life. I met my ex just before I turned 18 and became pregnant. It all happened really fast and then I thought ‘I’m pregnant. I can’t do what I used to do’. I live in my own house now, looking after my son.
“I got a care leavers award for the journey I’ve been through and will get to present it to someone else next year. I just passed my driving test and got my car. I go to college and I’m doing my GCSEs again, then I want to study health and social care and be a children’s social worker.
“It gets better. Talking about your feelings can make you feel better. Even if you feel good or not good about yourself, you don’t feel as pressured with all your emotions.”