Tom is in no doubt where he would be today if he had not received the help that he so desperately needed from Rita, his case worker at Safe and Sound.
“I’d be lying in a ditch somewhere, dead,” he said.
The 17-year-old started using online dating sites when he was 15, making contact with men much older than him who were claiming to be younger.
In early 2015 he was groomed by a man he met online who told Tom that he was 28 when he was actually in his 50s.
Tom said: “I met him on Grindr and we arranged to meet up. I had put myself out there as being 17 and he told me he was 28 but he was actually much older. At this point I was living in foster care and we would meet quite a lot. He would buy me gifts. It did get quite scary; when he thought I was seeing other men he told me that he knew people I should be scared of.”
It was June 2016 that Tom started working with Rita at Safe and Sound.
Tom said: “When we first met we just chatted generally and she asked me questions about myself but just general stuff. We talked about like what I liked doing and what my favourite colour was.
“We got on really well and she just seemed interested in me. I couldn’t really talk about what had happened to me at first but she never pushed me. I was scared and I was holding back.
“Then there was one day when everything came out. I think that was my lowest point. I was really scared.
“I stopped eating. I lost about three of four stone. Rita knew something wasn’t right because when we went out for lunch or for a coffee I wouldn’t eat anything.
“At one point I was going online three, four or five times a day. I was spending most of my day online but Rita really helped me. Rita came up with a plan where we tried to reduce the amount of times I would go online and we also talked about consent and what it means and about internet safety.
Just over a year after his first meeting with Rita, Tom is attending college, is interested in going to university, and most importantly, he is feeling positive about his future.
He said: “I think the work that Safe and Sound does is great. Everyone has always made me feel welcome and included. I just felt like I could open up to Rita, she’s been like my walking stick. We have such a good relationship, she’s a life-saver.”