Leah's Story - aged 12

(Permission granted to share, with false name and photo to protect identity)

It all started just before I was 12

Things at home were difficult with my dad but I was happy at school. I went down to the netball courts with my friends at lunchtimes, which was by a wooded area with a public alleyway. Hardly anybody used it, so it was unusual to see Jack a tramp as we called him back then. He had a beard, wore grubby clothes and was in his late 40’s but sat there not really bothered about us.

He was there regularly and would just nod or smile at us, which made us feel safe enough to talk to him. After a few weeks my friends found him creepy and stopped going but he paid more attention to me. He’d ask me to bring him healthy food, as he had a bad heart and no money. After a few weeks I felt committed. If I didn’t bring him food, he’d starve, I’d feel guilty. He became my responsibility. I liked how he talked to me, he made me feel really important to him.

He groomed me for a year!                                               

It started with him bringing me little charms to wear on a necklace. Dropping hints and bits of information into our conversations, he would show me glimpses of his temper and just enough threat to stop me questioning or leaving. He told me he went to school with my dad, which comforted me but he said my brother was a P******* because he’d seen him leave MY HOUSE this morning in shiny shoes. This scared me but I didn’t understand why? I wanted to get away but I was scared of what he would do to my brother. I couldn’t tell anyone in case he hurt him. He took pictures of me without me knowing. He asked me if he could have a photo, as the ones he’d taken of me in town hadn’t come out. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and become totally submissive to him.

I wrote about him in my diary and kept his letters which my mum found. The police came and interviewed me and I felt ashamed and terrified of what he would do to my family if I stopped going to him, or told the police anything. So I went back to him a few days later, desperate to keep him calm I did everything he said. I let him rape me without a fight. I froze and afterwards I just spoke to him as if nothing had happened. I was too scared to make a fuss, because of what he might do, so I was extra nice to him. I felt like I had been a part of it, that I just let him. I had a sickening secret that made me feel ashamed of myself. I thought my family would hate me for what I’d just done with him.

Something in me changed. I couldn’t sleep or concentrate at school and started bunking off. I fell behind with my work and stopped talking to my friends. At the same time my parents split up, my mum worked shifts, we lost our home and then my dad left the country permanently. I became withdrawn as the shame of my secret ate away at me. I became bulimic and started cutting myself. I felt dirty and that everyone else saw me that way too.  I couldn’t bare going out in the day, I just wanted to sleep. I started drinking to stop the feelings of shame and pain. Other men started abusing me when I would get drunk in town or the park and I didn’t care. I didnt realise Jack was a very wealthy man who had groomed, destroyed and manipulated me into a place where he could sell me to other men and have me blame myself entirely.