A mother from Tameside has told how her 12-year-old daughter thought she was "in love" with a man who groomed her online before subjecting her to sexual exploitation.
The mum has shared her story as part of the It’s Not Okay campaign to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation (CSE) and encourage other parents to be vigilant to protect their children from online grooming and seek help where they have concerns.
A video interview with the mum, who has remained anonymous to protect her daughter’s identity, is being highlighted as part of the Greater Manchester Action Against Exploitation week of action, which involves local authority, police, health and community partners coming together to tackle criminal exploitation including CSE, help people to spot the signs and encourage them to seek help.
The mum told how she had found text messages “of a sexual nature” on her daughter’s phone and, when confronted, her daughter revealed the man had befriended her on social media. It came to light that he had sent her sex texts and encouraged her to send indecent pictures of herself before eventually meeting up with her.
She said: “She thought that she loved him and she thought that he loved her. It was hard for her to understand that she had been groomed and that he didn’t really love her – he had reeled her in.”
The mother went to the police, and the man, who was 23, was arrested. He later pleaded guilty to three counts of rape, one count of sexual activity with a child, making indecent images of children and possession of a class A drug and was sentenced to eight year’s imprisonment, an indefinite sexual harm prevention order and a requirement to sign the sex offender’s register indefinitely.
She said: “My daughter begged me not to tell the police. She was scared, I was scared – we were all scared.
“She felt like she was to blame, that it was her fault – she felt guilty that he would go to prison.
“As a parent you go through so many emotions, you feel like a bad parent that you haven’t kept your child safe. But you are not a bad parent. It can happen to any parent - it can happen to any child – from all walks of life.”
The mum praised the support her daughter had received from Phoenix Tameside, police and social workers.
She said: “It is scary, you think ‘social workers’ and you think someone is going to take your kids off you, not what they are really for - they are there to support your child, stop it happening again and help them recognise the signs in future.”
The video interview of the mum is being shared to highlight the week of action. There will also be theatre performances and workshops for school pupils, stands in community settings and operational and enforcement activity at suspected CSE hotspots.
Tameside Council Executive Deputy Leader Cllr Bill Fairfoull, who is responsible for children and families, said: “I would like to thank this local mother for bravely sharing her story – although it is harrowing, it is very powerful in highlighting how any child can be vulnerable to sexual exploitation and helping to raise awareness to encourage parents, carers and professionals to look out for signs of exploitation and seek help.”
For further information on CSE, spotting the signs and where to get help see www.itsnotokay.co.uk.
VIDEO: Watch the interview with the mum by clicking on the play button at the top of the page.