Mental Health Awareness Week
A young person speaks about the impact of sexual exploitation.
Blog special, second part in a series featuring the voices of young people.
A young person we have supported talks about the impact sexual exploitation had on their mental health:
My experience of sexual exploitation had a severe impact on my mental health and even on my personality. When I was coming out of it all, I would have mood swings, bursts of extreme emotions that switched back and forth all the time and took out what had happened to me on everyone else around me. You think you’re coping at the time and it’s difficult to be convinced otherwise. Without appropriate support, child sexual exploitation (CSE) can cause depression, anxiety, PTSD and people often turn to drugs and alcohol, self-harm and suicidal thoughts or attempts from not being able to cope.
My Safe and Sound support worker helped me a lot on my journey to recovery. They took the time to get to know me before starting any work so I felt we had a good relationship before we started; I never felt pressured that I had to go to my appointments or they would be annoyed because sometimes I couldn’t manage it that day and they understood that.
They helped me to realise that what I went through was wrong and shouldn’t have happened and that it wasn’t my fault. They helped me to understand fully what a good and bad relationship looked like and that made me see for myself how the relationship I had was a bad one. I learnt what grooming was because I had no idea before and I had been groomed so well, I didn’t know that’s what was happening at the time.
The most important thing to me was that they took the time to listen to anything I had to say and would help me with anything even if it wasn’t related to what we were doing, they genuinely cared about me and I could see that. They made me feel like I was wanted and needed in the world and that life would go on and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. They have helped me rebuild my life which is what every survivor needs.
I was offered therapy and Safe and Sound helped me to find the right one for me, but therapies are only helpful if that young person wants it; there’s no point trying to force someone to get help if they’re not ready to engage. There are also different types of support that might work at different times. For example, CBT worked for me because I didn’t have to talk about everything, only where my flashbacks were coming from and why they affected me. It was much more focussed and didn’t require me to start talking in-depth about all my experiences.
Each young person is different and there are so many alternative types of therapy out there now. Professionals should encourage young people to try a range of therapies to see which one suits them. Everyone deals with this kind of trauma differently. For example, I found it easier to be asked questions about what had happened to me rather than to explain in detail – saying yes or no was easier and meant I didn’t have to go back to that place again in my head.
I think weekly appointments are essential, because it can take a while to build yourself up to be in the right mindset to talk. It takes a lot of strength and courage to make yourself go when you really don’t want to. My therapist suggested making happy boxes so that when I felt down I could open it and look at the things I put in them that make me happy and focus on having a positive outlook.
Having counselling at the right time in my life has had a huge impact on me. It worked because I felt I was ready and also because my therapist stuck with me until I was ready to stop going, rather than telling me I had a strict number of sessions and then it would be over. Having a constant support was really important.
It has also helped my recovery to be involved with the participation group at Safe and Sound, where I made new friends and could get involved with projects that could help make a change for other young people who were going through the same thing. In a way, being involved in so many different groups and projects where people understand you and don’t judge you, made it so much easier to talk about my experiences freely and come to terms with what had happened. I told so many different people in different ways, I now don’t care who knows or what their opinions are as it’s in my past. I can’t change what I went through and I’m now stronger than ever and still achieving like everyone else.
All that matters to me now is helping others through this process of recovery and making a difference.
I think it’s great that there is now a CSE specific helpline that young people can call when they feel like they want to talk, rather than relying on a therapist’s opening hours or having to find a way to pay for their time or be on a waiting list to see someone. It’s also a helpline you can phone if you’re worried about a friend, would like advice or want to report something. It is anonymous and confidential unless the person on the phone thinks you’re at risk of serious harm.
You can call or text this number anytime, 24/7 on 116000 and find out more about the #saysomething helpline by going to the website: