As Coronation Street’s sexual exploitation storyline peaks tonight (Friday, April 28), real life grooming victim "Nicole" – who has been helped by Barnardo’s - tells her own story. The ITV soap’s disturbing plot - which has been described as uncomfortable viewing by many - sees teenager Bethany Platt groomed and sexually exploited by much older Nathan Curtis, who pressures her into having sex with another man in tonight’s episodes. And as Nathan’s sexual exploitation of his young victim reaches the next level, ‘real life Bethany’ *Nicole reveals her story, which has chilling similarities to the Corrie plot.
“We’d go to parties, there’d be music and drink and some people would be doing drugs,” says "Nicole". “The alcohol was given to us by the men at the party. There’d always be alcohol around; we’d never have to ask for it. Usually it was older men; none of them were in school any more. They were all a lot older than us.
“At the start of the nights I’d be really uncomfortable, a bit nervous because of all the men who were there, but after we’d had a few drinks most people would be up dancing and having a laugh and your nerves would be out the window.”
In the wake of Coronation Street tackling the important issue, the UK’s leading children’s charity is highlighting the seven stages of grooming so children and young people – and their parents, carers and teachers – know how master manipulators like Corrie’s Nathan operate.
- Target - A groomer looks for a vulnerable child – but all children are potential victims.
- Trust - A groomer gains trust by making a child feel understood and valued.
- Information - A groomer gathers information about the child, their needs and how to fulfil them.
- Need - A groomer fills the void in a child’s life by making them feel loved and special. They may give them drink, drugs, somewhere to stay or thoughtful gifts.
- Isolation - A groomer isolates their victim by encouraging them to sever contact with family and friends and assumes a protective position.
- Sexualisation - After forming an emotional attachment and gaining trust, a groomer sexualises the relationship by talking about sex, watching porn or having sexual contact.
- Control - Once sexual abuse has begun a groomer uses secrecy, blame and threats to force the child into silence. They may threaten to harm a child’s family and friends or to circulate indecent images.
“There’s one particular event I remember clearly in my head, as if it was yesterday, she continues. “We’d been taken somewhere – I don’t know where it was. We’d been driving for a while and we got taken to this house.”
"Nicole" and a friend found themselves alone in the home of an older man they didn’t know – they had been left there by their groomers.
“My friend texted them to ask them where they were and they said that the other guy was going to give us a lift home,” she remembers. “But he said that he wasn’t going to give us a lift until we’d performed some sort of sexual activity on him. We were locked in, we couldn’t get out. He wouldn’t let us out the house. It was really scary because he was telling us that if we didn’t do what he said then we weren’t allowed to go home. I had no control over what was happening and I felt really scared.”
"Nicole" and her friend were eventually let out of the house after she made a panicked phone call to her mum.
“We were walking for a while before we finally came to a neighbourhood that we recognised,” she says. “It was very unnerving. At the time my mum didn’t really know what was going on. She didn’t know the full story. She just presumed I was being a typical naughty teenage girl, just going through that stage, but she didn’t know enough information to be able to help me.”
One Coronation Street scene this Friday will see terrified 16-year-old Bethany being led to the bedroom by older man Neil as her manipulative ‘boyfriend’ Nathan encourages her with a reassuring smile. Millions have been watching Nathan’s sinister exploitation of schoolgirl Bethany as Corrie’s disturbing storyline unfolds and earlier this week Barnardo’s issued advice to teenagers to help keep them safe from sexual exploitation.
“Nathan is a master manipulator,” says Corrie star Christopher Harper, who plays Nathan in the ITV soap. “Bethany thinks he loves her but he is isolating her from her friends and family so he can control her and exploit her sexually. Groomers like Nathan can target anyone but there are things you can do to help keep you and your mates safe. Barnardo’s has lots of top tips, including staying with friends your own age, always making sure someone you trust knows where you are and having charge and credit on your phone. It’s important to ask yourself if you’re in a safe situation and to be careful around drugs and alcohol, as they could make you an easier target for someone who wants to hurt you.”
"Nicole" has stressed the importance of young people having someone they can trust and confide in. “You have to gain that trust so a young person can open up to you to be able to tell you what’s going on otherwise they’d just keep it to themselves,” she says. “They need to be able to trust you enough to tell you and let somebody know what’s happening to them. It’s important that a young person feels like they’re not to blame, that they haven’t caused what’s happened to them.”
Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan added: “Sexual abuse and exploitation is never your fault, so please tell someone if you are scared or worried about yourself or a friend, so you can get help.” With the help of Barnardo’s, "Nicole" has been able to put her horrific experience behind her and focus on her future.
“My life has changed dramatically in the last two years,” she explains.” I’ve gone from a horrible place where I never want to return to a really good life. I’m going to university, I’ve got new friends – I’ve got real friends for once - and I’ve got more people around me who are helping me and supporting me. I’m just really happy to be able to say that I made it out the other side and my life’s going to be a lot better for it.”
Barnardo’s has previously praised Coronation Street’s writers for tackling the issue of child sexual exploitation and issued advice for parents worried about their children in its Be Safe Guide.
1. Stick with mates a similar age to you – a good mate won’t ask you to do stuff you’re uncomfortable with.
2. If you feel you can’t say no, ask yourself ‘am I in a safe situation?’
3. If someone offers you something for free, ask yourself what will they want in return?
4. Listen to your body – heart beating, stomach turning are signs you feel unsafe.
5. Be careful what personal details (including photos) you give out online and in real life.
6. Make sure you know where you are going and how to get home. Have credit and charge on your phone.
7. Make sure someone you trust always knows where you are.
8. Drinking and drugs can make you unaware of unsafe situations and you can become a target for people who may hurt you.
What is child sexual exploitation?
Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.
Barnardo’s CSE services
Barnardo’s has been operating services for young people affected by sexual exploitation since 1994 and now delivers services in more than 40 locations across the UK. We are the leading agency in the UK, providing more help for sexually exploited children than anyone else. Keeping children safe is at the heart of Barnardo’s work - in 2015-16 we worked directly with over 4,330 abused, exploited or ‘at risk’ children in England and Wales.
Last year 248,000 children, young people and families were supported by Barnardo’s through more than 996 services across the UK, such as young carers, care leavers, foster carers and adoptive parents, training and skills or parenting classes.
We work to transform the lives of the UK’s most vulnerable children and every year we help thousands of families to build a better future. But we cannot do it without you. Last year 248,000 children, young people and families were supported by Barnardo’s through more than 996 services across the UK, such as young carers, care leavers, foster carers and adoptive parents, training and skills or parenting classes.Visit www.barnardos.org.uk to find out how you can get involved.
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