Young survivors of child sexual abuse and exploitation laid out their blueprint for a more caring and responsive society, at an emotional gathering in London.
The 17 young people travelled from around the UK to discuss their experiences, and to come up with proposals for better care and support in the future.
The day started with workshops in the morning, and continued with a Question Time style debate in the afternoon in front of an invited audience of around 70 practitioners and policy makers.
Six of the young people formed an 'expert' panel and answered questions, during which they shared some honest, and sometimes harrowing, insights into childhood sexual abuse, coercion, grooming and sexting.
Their testimony was often elaborated upon by event hosts Siobhan Pyburn - who became a Fixer in 2008 - and TV and radio personality Karen Danczuk ... who have both survived child sexual abuse.
There was also powerful personal testimony from young people in the audience.
The day focused on three key areas – the reactions of family and friends, their treatment by professionals and how their mental and physical health had been affected.
Talking about their friends and family, some young people explained that, after disclosing their abuse, they hadn’t been properly supported. They said it was crucial to be listened to and believed.
'Emma', 24, said: ‘My family thought that if you brushed everything under the carpet and ignored it that would somehow solve things, but that’s definitely not the way to do it.’
The young people proposed support groups for family members, and said friends and family should make themselves aware of what could trigger negative reactions, while they need to understand that survivors need continuous care.
‘It’s an ongoing process with little details coming back to mind over time and you need to discuss them when they come up,’ said Siobhan, whose father was jailed for her childhood abuse in 2007 and who has become a prominent campaigner for better reporting as well as support for survivors.
When the discussion turned to professionals, the young people stressed the importance of making youngsters aware of their rights, ensuring their voices are listened to and respected, and building a rapport to make them feel comfortable.
Young people on the panel described how they felt let down by the police.
‘Andrea’ said: ‘I was involved in drugs and prostitution when I told the police. There was an attitude that I was sexually active anyway, so that made what happened to me less serious. No one seemed to realise what I had been through.’
'Emma' added: ‘I think the police are allowed to ask really inappropriate questions – like what were you wearing when you were abused, and what sexual history have you had previously. Why does it matter if you’ve had sex with other people?’
On the mental and physical impact of sexual abuse, the young people said that the trauma they had suffered affected every aspect of their lives, including relationships and sex lives.
'Kirsty', 17, said the impact had been huge: 'I've had alopecia and I was nine when I slit my wrists to get away from all the abuse. I later turned to drugs and alcohol and was diagnosed with depression and schizophrenia. Later, because of these diagnoses, I was asked if I was making it all up.'
'Alan', 19, who was abused by a family member and has created a spoken-word poem with Fixers about his experience, added: 'When I was 16 I had the worst year of my entire life. 'Finally I confided in my best friend. Talking to someone you trust is really important – she is now my fiancée.'
The young people said that they needed people to listen and not judge them, and to recognise that the abuse does not define them. They also said it was important for the correct support to be offered - such as counselling.
Karen Danczuk shared her own story.
She said: ‘The first person I told about the abuse was my doctor – I never told anyone before that. I was 16 years old and it was the first time that I’d seen a doctor on my own, so I felt like I could talk about it.
‘I would be dead if I hadn’t had therapy, I don’t doubt that at all. My doctor kept telling me to go (to therapy). The first time I walked in the room I said ‘I’m fine, there’s nothing wrong with me’ and within five minutes I was crying. It was the best cry I had ever had in my whole life.’
Audience member Katharine Sacks-Jones, the director of Agenda - Alliance For Women And Girls At Risk, said: 'It's amazing that these young people are speaking out so articulately and courageously about their experiences.
'They're so thoughtfully translating these experiences into what needs to change, and applying a positive focus to some of the horrendous and devastating things they have been through.
'How they have been treated by professionals that should have been supporting and protecting them is disgusting - to hear how some of them have been judged by the police and other agencies is shocking and I hope some of that is changing.@
‘Fixing Child Sexual Exploitation’ is part of the Feel Happy Fix Series run by Fixers, which brings together young people who already campaign on issues that affect their well-being, to share their insight and the lessons they have learnt.
The findings of the event will be compiled into a report, which will be delivered to decision-makers later this year in order to improve the future for other survivors of child sexual abuse and exploitation.
To find other resources on this topic, and watch Fixers films, click on the image below.