Three Girls and Beyond Support: How we are supporting survivors of Child Sexual Exploitation.

Over the last week, our team have been gripped the by BBC three part series ‘Three Girls’, the dramatized story of the Rochdale grooming scandal. The series followed the lives of three girls, ‘Amber, Ruby and Holly’- each groomed into child sexual exploitation as teenagers by local predators and follows their courageous journey to prosecute their abusers, despite the failings of support services along the way.

We know that the experiences of those three girls – and the many others who survived child sexual exploitation in Rochdale – isn’t an isolated incident, but rather reflective of many women and children across the UK who have been preyed upon and now find themselves involved in prostitution.

Three Girls highlighted the support available for victims of Child Sexual Exploitation. But what happens when those children become women? As they enter into adulthood, child sexual exploitation often becomes legitimised as sex work or prostitution. Overnight, exploitation becomes a ‘choice’. We know that many women didn’t make a choice to enter prostitution, rather those that groomed them made that choice.

Through Beyond Support– the UK’s only call-back support service for women in the sex industry- we hear stories like those brought to life in Three Girls on a daily basis. Research has identified that between 50% – 76% of women involved in prostitution started before the age of 18- for the majority of women involved in prostitution, their involvement began as child sexual exploitation*. This is something many women who have contacted Beyond Support have confirmed, tracing their journey into prostitution back to their teenage years, often due to the

coercive control of another person. Since we launched our service two years ago, we have had the privilege of supporting many women involved in the sex industry who are looking to make changes to their life. Last week we celebrated supporting the 100th situation since our service began! We exist to support women, standing alongside them as they make changes to their life and enabling them to find a lasting route out of prostitution. Alongside this, Beyond Support connects with people who are struggling to comprehend what happened to them in their formative years. If you have been affected by grooming and child sexual exploitation as a young person, our team can unpack that with you and if you’d like, connect you with local support services for face to face support.

No need to take our word for it, here is what one Beyond Support caller told us about our service: “I want to thank you guys for everything you have done. Showing me lots of patience and believing me when I didn’t believe in myself”.

We are delighted to have been able to stand alongside 100 women taking brave steps forward. We believe your story and we believe that you can make the change you want to see in your life. For support from our team contact 0800 133 7870 or e mail: support@beyondthestreets.org.uk. Please note that we are not a helpline, please l eave a message and we will contact you to arrange times that work for you.

*References: Hester and Westmarland, op cit.; Bindel, J. (2006) No Escape? An Investigation into London’s Service Provision for Women Involved in the Commercial Sex Industry, London: Poppy Project, EAVES; Dickson, in: http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/Documents/Community-safety-and-emergencies/Domestic-violence/VAWG-REPORT.pdf

Three Girls and Beyond Support: How we are supporting survivors of Child Sexual Exploitation.

We exist in a world, interrupted. A world inappropriately handled by our very own contextual experience. When we interact with the other there is an apparent gap between us. An invisible line, which is the proverbial us and them, materialises out of our unseen judgements. We silently walk pass those who might be different to us and subconsciously snub our noses at them. Or maybe you’re at ground zero and you’ve gotten used to your surroundings. If we are ever approached by someone to speak on their behalf we then, without being fully aware, filter all of their life experience through ours. There is a moment where their words get lost in our translation.

We need a better medium.

We need to bridge the violent gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’ that so apparently exists. We need to be translators of their story rather than interpreters of their story. As translators we make room for them to share their experience, we intentionally seek platforms for them to share, if they want. If we interpret their stories, it signifies that there is still a gap present between us and them – and this gap does not need to be present. Interpretation is a process where we take the stage and speak for someone else. It is the process where we take someone else’s life narrative and filter through our own understanding and present their experiences as our own. This is arguably condescending, because it assumes that the victim’s story cannot be uttered independently. Sometimes the stories of another can seem compelling enough to inspire others to help make the world a better place, however, we have to be purposely aware of our intentions when telling the story of another, because sometimes we can get so caught up in the story being about what we did to bring another’s ‘victory’ about. Let’s agree that ‘victims’ are not another notch on the belt of egos.

Sometimes by sharing the victim’s story and not allowing them to do so, empowers the woman to believe the same lie of invaluability that they may have experienced in their life. This is why it’s so important for us to pick up the gauntlet of translator. To be a translator means we are willing to advocate a safe space for the self-expression of each person we encounter and are able to help. This means we stand not in the gap for them, but stand in their corner fighting for them to fill the gap. This is an important distinction and why the role of interpreter is such an influentially dangerous role. Translators reject the notion of being a voice for the voiceless, as poetic as that sounds, as it fundamentally asserts the weakness of the victim and overlooks their resilience. Instead, translators embrace the role of “empower-er” and enabler.

The sex trade is a destructive thing. It devalues, dehumanises and irreparably demands women to become subservient to a corrupt system that tells them that they are essentially a sexual object. It is not just a dark and evil act, but also the new symbol these victims believe as true.

The danger in translating their stories for them is that the status of victimisation and disempowerment is then reinforced. What we need instead is a space where we intentionally seek out platforms for healing and where we make room for these beautiful people to share their stories of incomparable redemption and agony.I think now is the time we intentionally step back and allow space for the voices and stories to be heard, and yes, they need to be heard. If we don’t allow their voices to be heard, we are denying them their place of honour.

When we allow vocal space for narrative expression we then agree that not only is their voice and personality valuable but that each one has a pertinent role in transforming the landscape of what it means to not be a victim but a woman with a life-altering story that must be heard. These women need not be pitied but rather seen as person, a woman; a human being.

A contribution from George Elerick.
George is a cultural theorist, author and human responsibilities advocate. He is also the UK representative for the Network of Spiritual Progressives. He’s written a book entitled ‘Jesus Bootlegged’, check it out. You can find out more about him here: http:/theloverevolution.org.uk