18-year-old Louise is now in a loving, stable relationship and planning a career as a female motor mechanic thanks to support from Safe and Sound – but it could have been a very different story.
As a young teenager, Louise was in a downward spiral of self-harm, running away and sharing photographs with strangers online – not realising that they were not boys of her own age but older men who were prolific sexual predators.
“It all started going wrong when I was about 13. I was going through a lot in my life and was very unhappy so Facebook was my release. I didn’t know what privacy settings were so my life was out there for the world to see.
“Pretty soon I got chatting to what I thought were boys of my own age on Facebook. I told them I was 16 and they said they were the same. They were nice to me and said I was pretty and interesting. I just wanted to love so I was soon sucked in.
“At first, it was like being in a storyland with a boy who is interested in how I felt and wanted to be there for me. But this was a warped story and I was so naïve so didn’t realise they were controlling every move.
“A couple of them kept on sending naked photos and wanted me to do the same. I didn’t question it – in my head, it was just part of a normal relationship with someone of my own age.
“Things just kept on going with more and more conversations and worse and worse photos. They got into my head so they were pulling the strings. Looking back it was like being trapped in the crystal maze but you can’t see how to get out.
“When one of them I asked me to meet him, I confided in a friend who told school. They reported it to the police and contacted Safe and Sound.
“The police investigated and prosecuted two of them for sharing indecent images. During it all my Facebook account was hacked and suddenly the photos of me were shared with all my contacts. My best friends were horrified and a couple of them have not spoken to me since.
“That really tipped me over the edge and we moved away from Derby so I could have a clean break.
“Safe and Sound stuck by me. They helped me realise that I was not to blame for what had happened and that I had been groomed.
“Once I realised this I was able to start to re-build my self-esteem and confidence. My support worker gave me the strength to pick myself up and get on with my life so that my mental scars could start to heal.
“I consider myself lucky that I did not end up being raped, kidnapped or worse. Basically, Safe and Sound saved my life. I was naïve and vulnerable and this is exactly what people like this prey on.
“I hope that, by telling my story, young people and their families will wise up to using privacy settings on social media and only accept people that you know as friends because people like this are far from that.”