Poppy didn’t realise she was being subjected to sexual exploitation. Spending time with a WiSE worker opened her eyes to the reality of her situation.
The WiSE Project works with young people aged between 13 to 25 years old who are experiencing sexual exploitation and/or trafficking and those who are at risk. The Project aims to raise awareness of young people’s rights and provides access to the help and support they need. WiSE Project staff also collaborate with professionals who work with, or who come into contact with vulnerable and at-risk young people. This case study is from Poppy*, one of the many young people the WiSE Project supports. These are Poppy’s own words.
“My name is Poppy and I am 18 years old. I last saw my mum when I was 11 and I’ve never met my dad. I didn’t really have anybody there for me when I was growing up. I’ve always had to fend for myself and it’s always been me on my own. Since I last saw my mum I spent five years moving around care homes, foster care and sheltered accommodation. I got kicked out of everywhere and I had nowhere left to go. I was homeless and alone. So I moved in with my ex-boyfriend.
I got addicted to heroin because my ex-boyfriend is a drug dealer and he gave me the drugs. We met when I was 15 and he was 30 but I didn’t realise his age, I thought he was a lot younger. I guess I was partly to blame because obviously I lied about my age as well. At that time I thought he was the love of my life but then we began fighting and it came to a point that he was just hitting me when he wanted. He busted my lips, he gave me a fat eye and he busted one of my ribs. The police were being called every five minutes because of the neighbours’ complaints about us fighting or because I phoned the police on him. He was always out doing things and bringing people to the flat. Sometimes girls came because he was pimping them out. He would get the money they earned and give them drugs.
In an attempt to get off the heroin I started taking speed (amphetamines), which didn’t help. I became so addicted that I couldn’t go a day without thinking I needed it. Drugs are what kept me going. I used to sell myself for money, not drugs, but I’d end up taking drugs to work. I couldn’t let myself think about what I was doing, I couldn’t go with a man and do it with a clear head. That would have screwed me up even more. There was a stage when I wasn’t eating anything apart from a few bites of a sandwich every three days because I was on drugs all the time. I was so ill, my body was messed up and my brain didn’t function. I had no respect for anyone especially for myself and I couldn’t even hold a conversation. Then it got worse. I fell pregnant and obviously I had no idea who was the father. I had an abortion. That wasn’t very nice.
Then somehow I managed to get a place in supported accommodation in Brighton. I hated it there when I first moved in and I was never around. You get a keyworker when you move in but I’ve got really bad trust issues, I don’t really trust a lot of people in my life . I trusted my mum and she let me down and ever since I’ve never really trusted anyone. So it was hard for me to talk to my keyworker but we had a few sessions together and I was like “yeah I like this woman, I like her a lot!”
When my keyworker said that I needed help with all of my stuff, I agreed that it was a good decision. My keyworker phoned the WiSE Project and they booked an appointment for Gemma (WiSE Project Worker) to come and meet me. It felt really weird, I was scared about meeting a person who I didn’t know and who didn’t know anything about me or my situation. At first I wasn’t too sure about Gemma because I’ve got really bad attachment issues with people and it took a bit of time to get used to her. People always want stuff off me and I thought Gemma was trying to get something out of me because I have grown up to think like that but she didn’t want anything from me. She was really honest and open about why she was helping. She wanted to be there and help me to understand why stuff was happening and why it didn’t have to continue. Just knowing that she was there made me feel safer. She became a person that I could rely on because I got to trust her and my trust issues just went away.
One time I remember ringing Gemma and telling her that I’d received this text message from my ex-boyfriend and this woman who also made me work. The message said that they wanted me to go out that night and work and I really didn’t want to. Gemma told me not to go to work and made me think about how I would feel after I’ve worked. How I would feel once I was off my nut on drugs and how that would affect my mental health. Nobody had ever said that to me before. Gemma told me to believe in myself and that I’m worth more than that. I got off the phone to her and realised what she had said and it was true. I was starting to recognise what I was getting involved in, what people were doing to me and how they were making me feel. That night I didn’t go to work. Anything could have happened that night so I’m glad I rang Gemma when I did. I’m glad that she was there when I needed her.
Gemma has had a great impact on my life. She’s always just down the other end of the phone. If I ever need a five-minute break or I really need to speak to someone she is always there for a coffee. She helped me to recognise and understand what my ex-boyfriend was doing. It woke me up! A year ago I thought I couldn’t live without him, I just wanted to be with him and nowhere else. Now I know that I don’t need him and that he was the bad person not me. He always made out that I was a bad person but I was the victim. Gemma helped me to understand that. If it weren’t for Gemma I would still be in that situation but much, much worse off. I probably wouldn’t be alive now if it wasn’t for her.
Now I’m back in college getting my qualifications. I’m single and I don’t think about my ex-boyfriend anymore. I’m still living in a hostel and I’m doing well. I keep in regular contact with Gemma and I’m starting to have positive relationships in my life as well. Now I hang out with people that don’t take drugs, they just go out and socialise and have a laugh without being off their faces. And I try to go to Narcotics Anonymous meetings twice a week. I’m still on the drugs but I’m not as addicted as I was.
There are things that I’m trying to change about myself. I’m trying not to shut people out so quickly. Being able to trust Gemma and my keyworker has been really important for me because I’ve never had that. Before if I had a problem I wouldn’t tell anyone, I’d keep it to myself . I realise now that it is better to talk to someone about my problems instead of bottling them up. I’m also trying to change my motivation to do things.
I never knew about that kind of work that Gemma did until I came into contact with the WiSE Project. I was a bit mind blown by it all because it’s just scary how life can change and how much you can need someone. In a few years’ time I’d really like to see myself doing that sort of work. I’d like to work in a hostel or a care home looking after young people who have had difficulties. I’d like to give something back because I know how hard it is. I’ve been there and I’ve done those days and I’m so glad that my bad days are over with but other people’s aren’t, I’d really like to help people get through them.
I’ve grown fond of Gemma, she is one of the closest people in my life and I’m grateful for that. I am in a happier and safer space now than ever. I have the WiSE Project to thank for that.”
*Name and photo have been changed to protect the young person’s identity