Leila's story Getting professional support helped Leila* to realise she was being sexually exploited

Young girl by window

"I was born in Palestine and moved to England with my mum when I was 8. My mum is a strict Muslim and when I was 13 we started arguing a lot because she didn't want me to go out with my friends.

"She thought that England was really dangerous and she was worried that I'd get into drink and drugs. I saw the dangers but I was quite street smart so I didn't think they would affect me. I felt like I was stuck between two cultures.

"Soon after, I began running away from home. The police would call my friends but none of them knew where I was.

"Sometimes I would stay with strangers and have sex with them. It would be a roof over my head for the night and some food in my belly. I was scared but not scared enough to stop doing it. At the time it was better than having to go home.

"The men were a lot older than me but they didn't blink an eye when I said I was 13."

"One man told me that he was in his 20s but he looked like he was in his 30s. We'd got talking while I was waiting for my friend outside her flat. But my friend wasn't home and I ended up getting in his car and going back to his flat with him.

"I'm lucky that nothing bad happened to me, I could have been drugged or beaten. "

"As the arguments with my mum got worse, I started running away for longer, sometimes for up to a month. I'd stay with friends, or boyfriends, or with a stranger. But there were times when I had nowhere to go.

"I wandered the streets in the middle of the night and I was scared. I often called Childline and they would arrange for me to go to a centre for young runaways. I was really relieved that they were able to help me.

"I was referred to the NSPCC Protect and Respect service when I was 13 by a school mentor as she was worried about my safety. I went along to their group sessions which teach young people what sexual exploitation is and how it is harmful. I saw that I was being sexually groomed and that men were taking advantage of me.

"I thought that I was an adult and I was acting like an adult but I wasn't. I see that now."

"It helped me speaking to other girls who were going through the same thing as me and knew how it felt. I hadn't told any of my friends about what I was doing so they couldn't understand what I was experiencing.

"I also had one-to-one sessions with a counsellor from the NSPCC. She gave me advice on how to keep myself safe. I knew that I could always turn to her and tell her anything. She saved my life.

"The NSPCC were a friendly face at a time in my life where I didn't have many people to turn to. I would recommend them to anyone who is going through what I went through."


Names and identifying features have been changed to protect identity. Photographs have been posed by models.

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Protect and Respect

Protect and Respect supports children and young people aged 11 to 19 who have been, or are at risk of being, sexually exploited.

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