Youth worker: 'She'd go at night to be with the only people she trusted: her abusers'

A youth worker from the north of England, writing anonymously, recalls being powerless to help a girl in care to escape from the men exploiting her

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My case list, like those of youth workers across the small former mill towns clustered between Manchester and the Pennines, contains girls damaged almost beyond repair by sexual exploitation. The reach of their predators, or men very like them, is known from as far north as Lancaster down to Liverpool.

I met my first "abused by many" child more than five years ago, just after I was moved into the area. She was 14 and on the couch in her care home, having refused to attend her appointment at my office, full of angry street bravado, that hardened gloss that masks, to herself and others, her deep vulnerability.

I listened as she eventually told me that the one good thing in her chaotic life was her new boyfriend, whom she had recently met, having moved into the area only a few weeks previously. She confided that he bought her presents, including her latest mobile phone, which she displayed with enthusiasm. On being asked how she had met him she told me she was introduced to him by a girl she had met on moving into this, her latest children's home.

She admitted the boyfriend supplied her and her newly acquired friends with alcohol and cannabis at parties, calling her on her new phone. So when he suggested that if she really loved him, really wanted to make him happy, she would sleep with his brother, his cousin, his uncle, his friend, she agreed. Again and again. The vodka and drugs she saw as a reward, not a necessity to numb her mind and her young body, although I was sure that would come later.

This was a young girl, a child taken into local authority care after being abused from an early age by the boyfriends of her drug-dependent mother. This, for her, was how loving relationships worked.

Unfortunately, conversations with colleagues proved she wasn't an isolated case. This was almost par for the course for area's looked-after children.

I took her case to my manager, to the manager of her care home and to Children's Social Care. The police, I was told, were aware of her situation. The residential social workers confirmed that when she absconded, they could only report her as missing and their duty of care was to inform the local police, but given the restrictions that applied to looked-after children they were unable to do anything more.

They were not allowed to lock her in at night and could not even demonstrate their affection for her, as hugging is not allowed. She decamped at night to be with the only people she trusted: the men who were trafficking and abusing her.

The police had on more than one occasion had to carry her back to the home in the early hours of the morning, incapacitated with drink. But "our hands are tied", I was told, until the police decided to take more action, or until the girl could be persuaded to press charges – against her "boyfriend".

After a couple of months of frustrating appointments during which she would scream and swear at me for even suggesting her new friends and boyfriend may not have her best interests at heart, she was moved on – back to the "care" of her mother, I was told. Just one more move in her pillar-to-post existence.

The police, in the meantime, were speaking to local imams, but to what end I was unable to determine. Even now, years on, I cannot shake the feeling that someone, somewhere decided children like her were a reasonable sacrifice to make for peaceful community relations.

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