Bonding, blame and belief: exploitation explained
Right now, there are young people trapped in a cycle of forced crime and sexual abuse. With schools and support services temporarily closed over Christmas, the crisis is likely to get worse. Our project workers explain the dangers young people face and how important it is to have someone sticking by them, to help them understand their situation and break free from abuse.
how young people are in survival mode when being exploited
Lauren is now in college. She is confident, focused on her future. However, when we met her, it was a different story. Matt, manager of one of our child sexual exploitation services, explains how children like Lauren get trapped in a world of abuse.
‘When vulnerable young people are groomed by older men and pressured into having sex, they often feel they can’t say “no”. They worry they will lose the connection, which is often the only connection they have.
They are also given drugs and not allowed to sleep. It is a way of making sure they will do what they are asked. Alone and threatened, a natural response to threat is to ‘freeze’ or ‘flop’. This is not a choice. It is the brain’s survival mode response.
It's not a choice. It's survival.
Later, they may feel very confused by their response, often blaming themselves for not fighting or saying “no”. A lot of our work is helping young people understand they are not to blame. They are victims. They deserve better.’
how young people feel bonded to their abuser
Breaking a bond
‘Having been groomed, young people often struggle to see their abuser negatively. They focus on the positives – the care, the compliments, the attention. They blank out the negatives – the threats, the scare tactics, the violence.
The extreme manipulation and grooming tactics of the abuser make it very difficult for the young person to walk away. It creates what is known as a ‘trauma bond’. We work with young people as long as it takes to help them see that relationship for what it is. We help them break free. We put safety plans in place to reduce the risk of them being targeted and abused.’
Finding people I could relate to, I felt like I belonged Finding people I could relate to, I felt like I belonged
Emily is Lauren’s project worker. She helped her break free. She says ‘for young people who are being exploited, their self-esteem can be so eroded by their abusers that they do not believe they can have a life free from abuse and manipulation.
To break free, they need to believe it can be better, and they are worth that.
how we rebuild belief in young people
A crucial part of our work with them, is to not only help them find safety, but to build their self-esteem with positive feedback and respect.
Young people we work with are so used to being abused or disrespected, they expect that from us as well. It’s our job to build trust, to help them to see that they are worth so much more and to give them something to fight for. We show them that they are a human being worthy of care and connection that is healthy. This is something that many of them have never actually had.’
Breaking the cycle
No young person should suffer abuse or exploitation. Our project workers stand side-by-side with young people, helping them find safety, self-belief, and confidence, so they can break free from a cycle of abuse.
Every phone call, message of support and coffee shop meet-up will help young people deal with their trauma and see that their future is theirs to own.