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It took a support network to help Lauren realise that she was being exploited, and to then give her the strength to walk away from it.
Like lots of the young people we work with, Lauren had a difficult home life, and spent much of her time outside on the streets to get away from it all. So when a group of men approached her and her friends, offering them gifts and nights out, Lauren, who was just 13 at the time, copied her older friends and accepted.
The men slowly gained the girls’ trust, buying them clothes and complimenting them, and, for the first time in her life, Lauren felt protected and loved. But before long, the men had introduced the girls to drugs and alcohol and would drive them to hotel rooms to sexually exploit them.
Lauren’s life quickly spiralled out of control. Thankfully Lauren’s school noticed a change in her behaviour and referred her to our Hand in Hand project in Keighley, which supports young people at risk of being sexually exploited. Through regular one-to-ones, group workshops and videos, her project worker carefully educated Lauren about the dangers of grooming and sexual exploitation, and gave her the tools and protection she needed to stay safe. ‘Hand in Hand helped me the most to understand what CSE (child sexual exploitation) is’, Lauren says, ‘They gave me the confidence to walk away from it.’
Lauren is hopeful about her future now and would like to go to college and work in health and social care. ‘I’m getting help to find jobs here too,’ she says. ‘At first, I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t trust for ages. But now I’m always here. It’s where a child would want to be.'
Lauren's story is part of our Impact Report 2014/15.