We got our first computer when I was around ten. Chatrooms were a big thing. You’d get private messages from people you didn’t know and have conversations. It didn’t seem a big deal. We never had lessons about online safety, so we didn’t know that people might not be who they say they are.
One afternoon when I was 13, I was online and started talking to someone who said she was a young woman. She was asking questions like: “How old are you? What music do you listen to? Do you get on with your dad? Where do you go to school?” I thought she was trying to make friends. It didn’t seem like a barrage of questions.
It’s normal for people to send photos to prove who they are so we sent ones of our faces. “She” said she was a model and that I could model too. She kept complimenting me, saying I was really pretty. It was flattering and the more she laid on the compliments, the more I got taken in.
She said she did topless modelling and asked me to send a topless picture. I didn’t want to so she kept trying to convince me it was no big deal. Eventually I sent one. That was the turning point when she started blackmailing me, saying she would post my photo around my school and local area.
She said her boss wanted to meet me to take photographs for a model portfolio. She asked for my address. I was terrified and didn’t feel like I had a choice. The following morning, a man came to my house and sexually assaulted me.
He was in his 50s, quite big and tall, a typical old man. He made me do things and took photos of everything. It went on for around an hour. I was only a young girl and didn’t stand a chance. Even if I’d felt I was able to physically push him away, he said that he would make sure that all my family and school knew what had happened. That felt like the worst thing in the world.
After he left, the first thing I did was have a shower. I felt dirty, emotionally and physically, and wanted to wash everything off. I wasn’t going to tell anyone and thought the police would say I was wasting their time.
I believed it was my fault. I had engaged with this person online, given my address, and opened the door. I was very angry and anxious.
Six months later, the police contacted me to say they’d found my details on someone’s computer and wanted to make sure I was okay. It turned out this man had committed similar crimes.
He pleaded not guilty even though there was proof of him contacting young girls and photographic evidence of his crimes. The case went to court quickly because he was already under investigation. I was prepared to give evidence and be cross-examined. In the end I didn’t have to testify, but even so, it was horrendous. In court, he had no remorse and sat there sneering. He got seven years for what he did to me, two years for two other victims, and two for a previous offense.
The whole process ruined things for me for ten years. There was very poor support offered to me. The police did the standard thing of giving us some phone numbers, but nothing else was offered to me or to my family. Depression and anxiety lasted throughout my teens. I would have good and bad phases but continued to have panic attacks.
I didn’t get counseling until I was 22. That’s when I decided what had happened didn’t have to define me. It really helped that I had a sense that justice had been done. Without that, it would have been more difficult for me to recover.
This story was shared as part of our 2021 report, Ending Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Women and Girls: A Call for International Standards.