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Breaking Through: Moving on from Child Sexual Exploitation

Despite widespread concerns about child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the UK, the voices of those who have experienced this often get lost or overlooked in debates about how to respond. In recent years, more attention has been given to how abuse happens, but we have heard little about how young people move on from CSE and what can best support this process.

Breaking Through is a set of resources co-produced by young people with experience of CSE, working with a researcher, an artist and a CSE support worker, using real stories of moving on from CSE. Based on the life stories of Daniel, Jade, Liberty, Natalie, Phoenix and Sharon, the resources capture experiences going as far back as the 1980s to as recent as 2015. The project was facilitated by Basis Yorkshire and the University of York. This booklet contains each life story in full, with some names changed and chosen by participants. You can watch our animation and find a shorter life stories booklet for young people at:

As well as providing unique insights into the realities of CSE, the stories show how young people’s individual experiences are shaped over time by relationships with parents and carers, abusive adults, and interventions from professionals, but also by wider factors such as welfare systems, criminal justice responses, education and access to money. The collection highlights how CSE happens to young people from a wide range of backgrounds including both boys and girls, and also how some young people are especially vulnerable. Experiences in care, run-ins with the police, trouble at school and drug/alcohol use all feature, mirroring wider research in this area. Each person recounts being seen as ‘troublesome’ in some way often blamed for their situation – underlining that if responses to CSE are to be effective, support must work for those who might be considered ‘difficult’ as well as those seen as more ‘deserving’ or ‘easier’ to work with.

All of the stories show how important it is for professionals to build trust with young people, take the time to listen and keep them informed about what is going on, making sure they know professionals are on their side. To support a process of ‘breaking through’, agencies need knowledge and skills but also appropriate resources and time, so the experiences of professional involvement included in this booklet should be read as framed by a wider context of changing developments in how the state supports children and young people.

Given the content, certain sections may be challenging to read, particularly for those who may have suffered similar experiences. However, we hope the Breaking Through resources will help young people, parents, practitioners and policy makers understand more about CSE and respond to it in ways that match the realities as told by those who know it best.