“I learned stuff about gangs and consent; it helped to be able to talk about what I wanted and didn’t want, without a big book being given to me to explain what it means.” Sarah, aged 14
Sarah was referred to the Empower programme by the local authority’s Social Care team. Her parents had found letters that Sarah had received from a man in prison, she was regularly going missing overnight and wouldn’t say where she had been, her school attendance was dropping and it was clear that something worrying was happening in her life. However, Sarah would not talk to her parents or anyone else about what was going on.
Our Young People’s Advocate (YPA) met Sarah to explain the support that Safer London could offer. At first, Sarah was resistant but told the YPA she was being bullied at school and asked if she could help her move somewhere else. The YPA was able to check the name of the prisoner Sarah was writing to and found he was a known gang member, who was considerably older than her and who had been imprisoned for sexual assault. The YPA and Sarah continued to meet and Sarah opened up about rumours around school that she was a ‘sket’ and explained that was why she wanted to leave. She also mentioned something about a video, but initially wouldn’t elaborate on her comment.
Sarah continued to go missing at weekends and after a few weeks disclosed to the YPA that that she was going to ‘uck parties’, invited by young male gang members she knew. Sarah explained that a video was taken at an ‘uck party’ showing her giving a ‘line up’ of boys oral sex and this had been circulated at school. At first she said it was something she had wanted to do, but after talking about it more, it became clear that when she agreed to go to the party she had not expected this to happen and had found herself in a terrifying situation. She hadn’t realised the ‘line-up’ was filmed and it was then used to threaten her into performing sexual acts for the gang members and their friends.
The YPA spent time reassuring Sarah that what had happened to her was not her fault, there was no consent and explained that the pressure and coercion she experienced was abusive. The YPA helped Sarah to open up by providing a safe, confidential and non-judgemental environment. With the YPA’s support, Sarah decided to tell her parents what had been happening. Working with Sarah’s family, the YPA was able to help her find a new school placement in an area where she wasn’t known.
Through the work with Safer London, Sarah was able to identify the risk she was experiencing and acknowledge that what had happened was not her fault.
Sarah’s relationship with her parents has now improved, she has started associating with a new group of friends and with a renewed sense of optimism for the future she has been able to move on with her life.