Groomed and abused. How Barnardo’s are providing vital support for UK children like Chloe

Right now, sexual exploitation is destroying young people’s lives across the UK. Hidden from view, young girls and boys are groomed and then abused, leaving their lives shattered.

Barnardo’s is the largest provider of child sexual exploitation support in the UK. With more than 20 years’ experience in this area, we now have 65 specialist child exploitation and trafficking support services in 22 different places across the country.

These services provide vital help for children like Chloe.

Chloe’s Story

Chloe was just 12 years old when she met Rob in a park near her home. He was 29. Rob knew Chloe’s older sister already and so Chloe believed she could trust him. Having grown up in a violent, unstable home, no one had really ever paid her attention before and so when a grown-up man took interest in her, Chloe found it difficult to resist.

‘I was with my sister and her friends. My sister knew lots of guys and girls so she invited me up there, and that’s where I met him. Because there were other girls there, it wasn’t scary …

We just stared talking, became friends and saw each other regularly. We didn’t have Facebook back then, so it was texting and phone calls. So, it would be set times when I’d go out and meet him.’

Chloe thought she was involved in a real relationship – that Rob could give her the security she had been missing in her childhood. The relationship soon turned sexual. Because of the age difference Rob told Chloe that it had to be a secret and ‘if anyone found out it would be really bad for me and my family’.

Rob began to control Chloe more and more. He would control when and where they met. If she wanted to go out with her school friends he would become angry: ‘He’d shout and make me cry and then say sorry’.

A cry for help

Finding the strain of hiding the relationship from her parents overwhelming and feeling trapped by Rob’s controlling behaviour, when she was 14 Chloe found the pressure so great that she took an overdose. She admits that this was a cry for help and was devastated when no one took any notice of it:

“Not once did anyone say; ‘Is everything ok, is anything wrong?’. The ambulance lady who picked me up actually said ‘Well, that was really stupid’. So then my lips were sealed. That was my cry for help and no one answered it. No one noticed.”

Falling pregnant at age 15

The relationship with Rob continued and, at the age of 15, Chloe became pregnant. And that’s when she knew that she had to try and break free from Rob: ‘As soon as I found out about the baby, I felt like it was more important than him. When he made me cry, I thought; ‘What are you going to be like when it’s born?’.

When she’d had her baby she stayed at her Nan’s house for a while, then her midwife helped her get a place in a refuge.

When she was living there, Rob hit her for the first time. Chloe decided that was the final straw. She knew she had to change her life. ‘All I’m thinking is; ‘This baby’s not going to go through what I did.’

Finding a safe place with Barnardo’s

Chloe had help from CAHMS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) and then was put in touch with a Barnardo’s support worker, Helen. It took time for Chloe to trust Helen and open up but gradually she realised that she was there to listen, to give her time, to stand up for her, and to be by her side whenever she needed help.

‘We had meetings and at first it was just little things, talking about the baby. And then it was worksheets, about healthy relationships – it was the first time anyone had said to me; ‘This is right and this is wrong’. I could ring Helen if I was having a bad day.

A brighter future

Chloe is now making great progress. She is putting her horrific experiences behind her and is hopeful about her future. She also knows that she has the support she needs to keep her life on track because Barnardo’s will be there for her as long as she needs us.

Chloe has kept up with Helen as a friend and is now working as a mentoring volunteer for Barnardo’s.