A TEENAGE girl has described how her life spiralled out of control after she was sexually exploited and ran up £5,000 of drugs debt at the age of just 12.
Now 15, the girl shared her harrowing story in a bid to stop other teenagers following in her footsteps – and warned “lying on your back is not being loved, it is just being used and abused”.
She was speaking as Lancashire Police launched a week of events to raise awareness and tackle the problem of child sexual exploitation, often referred to as “grooming”, usually involving young girls being targeted by older men.
In Burnley members of Operation Freedom, a specialist team of officers tasked with helping to break the cycle of abuse, held a workshop for church and mosque leaders at the Burnley and Pendle Faith Centre in Barden Lane.
The teenager, known only as Stacey to protect her identity, grew up with her dad after being abandoned by her mum at the age of six.
But it was not until she started at high school as an 11-year-old that her life began to go downhill. She became addicted to drugs including cocaine and mephedrone – known as bubble – going missing for days on end and associating with older men, some of whom were known sex offenders.
She said: “I started high school and instantly fell in with the wrong crowd.
“I met a lad who was two years older than me and started a relationship with him, I started smoking cigarettes and a few months down the line I started trying cannabis and then cocaine and ecstasy.
“By the time I was 12 that drug bubble came out and I started taking that, within six weeks I was on it every day and getting into a big mess. I spiralled out of control really fast.”
After being admitted to hospital with stomach pains, Stacey was told at the age of 12 that she had done so much damage to her body she would not be able to conceive without IVF.
She said: “The people I was hanging around with stretched into their 20s and they were not just around for a friend because of how young I was and how vulnerable I was.
“I was 12 and I ended up owing £4,000 to 5,000 in drugs debt and I stole thousands off my dad. I was in a lot of danger doing things someone that age should not be doing.”
Stacey was signed up with specialist officers, designed to protect children from sexual exploitation.
Abduction notices were served on the older men she was associating with, designed to encourage them to break contact, although no one has been prosecuted in connection with her case.
Stacey credits police with saving her life.
Det. Supt Ian Critchley, head of public protection for Lancashire Constabulary, said: “Sexual exploitation is a form of abuse where young people are forced or manipulated into sexual activity.
“The abuser may groom the young person into trusting them – this can be done face-to-face or online – and they then exploit this trust for their own gain.
“Sometimes they may get the young person to engage in sexual activity by giving them attention, treats, alcohol, drugs or a place to stay, sometimes they may manipulate the young person into believing they are in a consensual relationship and that they love them. Either way, the young person is being taken advantage of through this controlling behaviour. It is child abuse and the victims face huge risks to their physical, emotional and psychological health.
“Child sexual exploitation can affect young people from all social and ethnic backgrounds and takes place in local communities all over the country. In the same way, offenders come from many different backgrounds – but they all have one thing in common. They are abusing young people and are using their status or position to exploit vulnerable victims.”