Celia’s story – told by Celia
As a 12 year old schoolgirl, I was flattered by the attention of these rogue, edgy and risky men, in their late teens and early 20’s.
I never thought for a minute I was being exploited or used for my innocent appearance. After all, I was a willing participant, naive to the consequences, just fitting into a popular group that had money, influence and power. On the surface, this gave me a street credibility I couldn’t get as a church going Pastor’s kid.
Quickly I had a sense of belonging, being useful and feeling needed. I would do little errands, from dropping off and collecting small packages to delivering messages. I enjoyed the attention and protective bubble I was being wrapped in.
Gradually, I became aware of a distance developing between me and them – being left out of conversations or rendezvous and the dynamics started changing from errands to scoffed challenges and topping up shoplifting orders that hadn’t been fulfilled. I was required to befriend rival groups and street individuals and pass information back about them and to commit credit card fraud even from my family. I knew by working my way into favour I was putting myself deeper in.
As a young teenager I would stay away from home for days in often squalid locations. I was expelled from 2 schools, my parents’ respected position in the community was laid aside to move the whole family out of the county.
The violence, overdoses and depravity I witnessed still haunts me. As does the consequences of my actions that not only destroyed my innocence but the upheaval of my entire family, the end of my parents ministry and their entire savings from selling the house, to pay off debt I had accumulated.
After much support and now living as an adult in the south west I know that not everyone’s story has this conclusion, many go from innocent to abuser or a dot on the left for dead statistics. My story isn’t unique, it’s a reflection of how anyone from any background can fall into the spiral of abuse.
Modern day slavery doesn’t always chose its victims. Its methods choose you.
Freddie’s story – told by a volunteer
Freddie was 17 years old when he contacted me by phone. He had been involved in county line trafficking since he was 13 years old and during the call was in an hysterical state, clearly at risk, and saying “he needed to get away” from the county where he was living. Arrangements were made to collect him that evening and a meeting took place between myself and another volunteer, Freddie and his mother following which I drove him to the South West.
Freddie’s physical condition was poor. He was unable to eat, his skin condition was dreadful and for the first week, whilst he was coming down from Xanax overuse he slept most of the time in the supportive accommodation which was provided.
I speedily recognised that Freddie’s emotional and mental condition was far more serious than his physical health. He divulged a history of selling crack and cocaine from the age of 13, of having knives held to his throat and a gun to his head. He described sleeping on the floor in crack houses, being beaten up and having drugs stolen from him thereby increasing his debt to his controllers. As he settled he recognised for himself that he had no idea of how to live normally in society and that he was in urgent need of counselling.
Despite this recognition Freddie felt more confident that if he were to return home in the light of the cessation of the immediate risk he would be able to find a job and stay away from his previous controllers. After two months he left to return home and unhappily his predictions have not proved accurate, he remains in contact, and he is considering returning to the safe house and support.
Freddie’s story is not unusual. I expect children with such a history to have a very hesitant departure from county lines and Sparrows are committed to supporting him and others over the period of a very fractured rehabilitation.