modern slavery

Emily's story

Emily Photo 3 (Causeway) (1)


Emily was just 11, and living in a small UK town, when she was approached by an adult neighbour and persuaded to deliver drugs around her neighbourhood.

Expulsion from school followed, and from there a quick descent into the chaos and misery of criminal and sexual exploitation that would come to define the next ten years of her life.

“Being out of school from the age of 11 meant I had nothing to do with my days, no routine,” said Emily. “I had a lot of spare time, and people on my estate knew that. It made me vulnerable to exploitation. It started off with a few packages around the local streets, but then I was asked to go further afield. A man who was a rival drug dealer attacked me with an iron bar. I defended myself and hit him back. I was still only 11, but the police arrested me.”

Emily no longer trusted the police to protect her, so when her criminal exploitation developed into sexual exploitation and abuse, she felt she had nowhere to turn.

“When I was 14 I started a college for excluded kids. My friend had already been groomed into sexual exploitation, although we didn’t have the words for it then, and she was told to bring some more girls down. So she did. She took me to be raped.”

Emily was attacked by a group of older men, but was assured by her friend that it was ‘just sex.’

Traumatised by the incident, she turned to drugs and self-harm to block out the pain.

Unfortunately for Emily, she continued to be targeted and exploited by predatory men, and at 16, the step-father of a friend took them both to another city where a house full of men were waiting to have sex with them.

Controlled through fear, shame and drug addiction, the girls felt they had no choice but to comply. Emily believes that over the course of five years of being trafficked around the country, she was forced to have sex with more than 1500 men.

“I found ways to cope with the pain through alcohol and through drugs,” she said. “I developed eating disorders. I self-harmed.”

At one point Emily even tried to take her own life.

“My mum was worried about me, she used to keep a diary of when I went out, and what I was wearing,” said Emily. “But I couldn’t tell her what was happening to me. Sexual exploitation of girls in the UK wasn't as well-known as it is now. We never had names for it. I wouldn’t have known how to describe what was happening to me. Today we've got names for it.”

It wasn’t until she became pregnant in her early twenties that Emily’s life took a turn for the better.

“My friends offered me cocaine, offered me joints, but I knew that I didn’t want my life to be blighted by drugs anymore. I knew I had to keep this baby safe. My daughter changed my life.”

In the years that followed, Emily tried to put her experiences behind her, but following a period of flashbacks, she confronted her past, and realised that the sexual abuse she had suffered was exploitation. It was then that she went to the police.

Despite being initially dismissed and told that what she had been through was just ‘bad luck,’ Emily was eventually referred into the support system for survivors of slavery known as the NRM.

More than a decade later, Emily has provided her daughter with a safe and stable home, and alongside her job, she uses her experience of surviving grooming and trafficking to support others who have been through similar abuse.

She is also passionate about training organisations such as the police and social services to spot the signs of exploitation in vulnerable young people, and improve the support and responses available.

She is also keen to raise awareness that British people are just as likely to be exploited as foreign nationals, and that they are a group who are often overlooked for support by those in authority. She also believes each police force should have a specially trained officer that knows how to respond to concerns around the grooming of young people and sex trafficking.

“A victim hasn’t got victim written on their head, that's why it should be shouted that every single child can become a victim of exploitation,” said Emily.

“Someone told me once that I don’t look like a victim of trafficking. But what is somebody supposed to look after exploitation? What do people expect?

“They expect me to look weak, but I’m not. I’ve got a job, a car, a daughter. I’ve got responsibilities. I’m not what happened to me.

“I want to make the future better for girls like me. I want to put power into my pain.”

You can buy Emily’s autobiography Enslaved here.