Angry, Proud: Speaking out about the exploitation of boys and young men

Greg* is a student. He and Jenny Pearce recently shared the stage at a conference run by BLAST in a joint presentation about boys and young men affected by CSE. In this post he shares his reflections on the value of that experience.

 “I was very excited at the opportunity to co-present with Jenny at the BLAST conference.

Sadly, I was let down by many professionals while I was being exploited, and because of this I was not adequately safeguarded. I won’t make the bold claim that sharing my experiences would have dramatically overhauled the practice of every single person in that room, but I think that it gave people a real account of how and why CSE can go undiscovered for long periods in boys. This made me feel like I was able to take something positive out of my experience and use it to benefit others.

I actually discovered a lot of things about myself whilst writing down what I was going to say. I used to hold myself fully accountable for the CSE I had experienced. It was only through working with Barnardo’s that I developed insight into the grooming process that I had been going through and why none of this was my fault. But one thing I didn’t talk about with Barnardo’s was the monstrous failure of the many professionals and services I came into contact with to safeguard me.

The risk indicators of CSE that I displayed were interpreted by professionals and services as being signs of gang affiliation. The abuse I suffered at the result of that assumption was absolutely harrowing – and it has taken me years to come to terms with it.

As I outlined the trajectory of my experiences in preparation to present I began to feel anger, for the first time, towards the services that came into contact with me. I feel that this right to feel anger had been unclaimed for many years and writing my experiences down was actually a strongly therapeutic experience that enabled me to look at my experiences of CSE from a different perspective.

I had shared my experiences of CSE before but only in a completely anonymised way on TV and radio. Co-presenting with Jenny at the BLAST conference was obviously a lot more personal because I stood up in front of well over a hundred people without the same anonymity afforded by a voice distortion and a silhouette. I was worried about feeling quite exposed up there – and I was right to be worried because in all honesty it was very exposing!

But did I feel ashamed? No! I felt like this was my time to showcase why the services involved in my care should be ashamed of how poorly they safeguarded me from blatant yet tragically ignored abuse.

I finished that speech feeling totally overwhelmed with pride for what I had done, which is a feeling I had not allowed myself to have before in relation to my experiences of CSE. As a result of the emotional intensity of what I had to say my presentation skills were not at their best, and my speech may have been a bit shaky. But I knew that didn’t matter. What was more important is that I shared what I came to share. And I did it, with Jenny’s help and support. She had been in contact with me on several occasions before the big day, which helped me feel really supported. She also reminded me that at any stage if I did not want to do it I didn’t have to.

I think combining research information and young people’s own experiences should always be considered wherever possible. Many people at the conference expressed to me that what I had to say brought a sense of reality to the research Jenny showcased. I can’t thank her enough for being given the opportunity, as it has been a landmark in my journey of moving on with life after CSE.”

*Greg is a pseudonym. You can read Greg’s story at the BLAST website. The BLAST project works with boys and young men who are at risk of, have experienced, or are experiencing sexual exploitation