modern slavery

Sosa's story

Sosa Photo 1 (Causeway)


Sosa Henkoma was nine-years-old when he was groomed by a gang.

He was only 11 when he had a gun pointed at him, and 12 when he was given his own.

Born in Nigeria, but brought to the UK as a young child, violence in the home led to Sosa being placed in foster care on a London housing estate from the age of nine.

Feeling lonely and isolated, he enjoyed the attention given to him by older boys from local gangs.

“The grooming process was like a brotherhood, like having a family,” he said. “For me at that time, family meant a lot because I didn’t feel like anyone else was family.

“My first involvement in a crime was probably when I was ten,” he added.

Desperate to please the older gang members, Sosa travelled around the UK selling drugs, but was frequently dropped off in unfamiliar cities, only to be abandoned there, and forced to make his own way home.

It was during one of these drug deals, that 11-year-old Sosa was threatened with a gun by a rival gang who took the drugs and the money.

He was then threatened by his own gang members, who said they would kill him and his foster carer if he didn’t get them back.

“I went to social services, but because county lines wasn’t that known of back then, social services told me that a boy of my age couldn’t be living that kind of life and that I was fantasizing.”

Feeling scared and unsupported, the violence and chaos of his life continued, and at the age of 13, Sosa found himself imprisoned for the first time.

“When I came out, I felt betrayed by the people I’d been around. But I stuck around them because I’d made a lot of enemies who were trying to kill me.

“At that moment in time that was my normal. I felt like I grew up in a war environment, where at all times from the age of twelve I wore a bulletproof vest. I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve been shot twice and stabbed numerous times. It was normalized.

“The best way to say I coped with it was that I smoked a lot of weed so that I would feel nothing. I was a young person dealing with a lot of trauma. I was a young person dealing with abandonment; with feeling lost. I didn’t know who I was as a person. I felt a lot of pain and a lot of anger.”

Sosa went back to prison between the ages of 19 to 22, but on his release he was determined to change his life, and the lives of other people like him.

As well as studying for a criminology degree, Sosa now works with organisations such as the police and social services to help give them an insight into the struggles faced by young people who are vulnerable to grooming and exploitation.

He also mentors young people living in similar circumstances to his own.

“The work I do with young people is about empowering them and changing their perspective of falling victim to their circumstance,” he said.

“I want to start that systemic change for young people, especially survivors of child criminal exploitation.

“I do feel like I’m one of the lucky ones. Some friends I had, did not make it out.”