Amber* is working to turn her life around, having eventually recognised that she was being sexually exploited. Here is Amber’s story in her own words.
My name is Amber and I am 20 years old. Social services put me into foster care because my parents used drink and drugs and couldn’t look after me safely. At the moment I am living in a hostel in Brighton. I have been in several bad relationships and I always seemed to attract controlling or violent men. I now know that I have been sexually exploited in the past but I am working on trying to stop that happening to me again. It’s difficult because they seem to care about you to begin with so you don’t know it’s happening until it’s too late.
I’ve always loved being on stage, it’s what I live for. When I was with my ex-boyfriend I was following my dream of becoming a performer. I was involved in a show at Glyndebourne, which is an opera house. I used to get up at the crack of dawn to go in for rehearsals but then I started to miss them because my ex-boyfriend didn’t want me to leave the house. He couldn’t stand the fact that I wasn’t with him. He thought I was going out to meet other guys but I wasn’t. I was literally going there to perform and then I would come straight home.
When I got home he would go ape at me and start screaming and shouting and hit me. He would put me down and make me feel so bad and he would just sit there and cry. He knew what he was doing and he knew how to manipulate me. I was finding it hard to maintain my career dream and the relationship at the same time. There was so much violence and physical abuse and he was becoming more and more controlling. I was frightened of what was happening to me.
When it was time for the show I felt excited and proud. I managed to get a free ticket and I invited my ex-boyfriend to come and watch me perform. I also invited him to the end of show party . He didn’t come to watch me but he did turn up after the show had finished. I asked him if he would come to the party but he said, “No,I’m here to pick you up and that’s it.” That was the first time that I asserted myself and said “No!” to him. I stayed there at the party until the end and I said goodbye to my friends properly. I was proud of myself for saying no.
It wasn’t until I spoke to my friend who said, “This isn’t normal, you need to get some help.” I knew that I had to get out of my relationship but I couldn’t see a way out, I was too scared of what he might do to me.
About this time my keyworker at the hostel told me about the YMCA WiSE project. She said that it might help me move on and get over stuff. I thought it couldn’t hurt and so a week later I met Gemma (YMCA WiSE Project Worker) and she told me what the Project was about and how they could help me and that kind of stuff. Gemma didn’t have time to take me on so she asked Helen (YMCA WiSE Project Worker) to get involved.
I actually broke up with my ex-boyfriend before I started meeting with Helen. I felt relieved that he wasn’t part of my life anymore but he was still constantly emailing, calling, and texting me.
Meeting with Helen once a week, we talked a lot about the stuff that was going on and also about what happened during the relationship. I started to realise that I wasn’t actually aware of how serious the abuse that I experienced had been. Helen helped me to see that it was never my fault, it was always his fault because he is what they call a ‘game player’. He knew how to latch on to me and keep that bond alive. Helen gave me lots of advice on how to move on and stay single, which has been quite a hard goal for me. I’ve learnt to let go of the relationship and to be myself.
Helen has always been lovely to me. She understands and listens to me. She has different perspectives and experiences and relates so much to what I tell her. Helen has helped me to set some goals in my life to help me stay more focused. We made my career the focus of my life and nothing else. Working with Helen has been a wakeup call and it has let me think about myself for a change.
I am looking forward to moving into my own place soon so that I can live independently and get out of the hostel. I’ve also got two jobs working in bars in the evening. Before I’d never go out at all but these days I’m going out more with my girls and stuff like that. I’ve got a lot more friends now and I’m still single which is all groovy. Actually I’m starting to be me again, I’m coming to life.
My performance career is off to a flying start and I’m finally getting back with Glyndebourne and getting on with my career. I’m an opera singer, a dancer, an actor and an acrobat, which is fun but a lot of work. I’m doing a dance project at the moment and there is a show in three weeks’ time. I can’t wait! I have also been offered a lead role next year, paid work this time! And I finally got onto the books of an agency in London. They’ve given me a role in ‘Snow White’ in December which is good, a bit scary but hey ho. I’m finally focusing on what I want to do. I’ve been training for opportunities since I was three years old which is like 17 years and I’m not giving up now. I’m literally almost there and I am so excited about it. It is literally about to go off!
The YMCA WiSE Project has helped me to get to grips with reality rather than living a fake life. I recognise that I have always ended up in relationships with men who exploit me and I’m trying to break that pattern. I’ve learnt to be myself again rather than being a character. These days I’m definitely more wary with regards to guys. I can now read the signs, who is a decent guy and who is not. Who is playing games and who is actually being a real person. I can tell the difference now, which is good.
If I saw one of my friends going through what I went through I would tell them that they have to go and talk to somebody and take a second to stop and breath and think about what they’re doing and what they actually want. My advice would be that you need to review the relationship and understand what it is that he is giving to you and what you are giving back.
If it isn’t equal then it’s not going to work out. Are you being taken advantage of? Is he making you do sexual stuff you don’t want to? Is he taking your money or your time or not letting you see your friends? Are you treated right some days and then completely ignored the next? If so, he’s probably not the right person for you. If it feels like he is in control of the relationship that’s not right. You should both be in control of it and you should both be living your own lives.
At the end of the day you have to put yourself first. You always come first and if that isn’t the case then why are you with him? Think about it and then make a choice. If it’s not worth it then get out while you can. That’s my advice.
*Name and photo changed to protect the young person’s identity