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Experiences Shared

Alyssa

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Alyssa was an only child and her mum was a single parent who worked long hours.

Lonely and isolated at home, Alyssa began chatting on online sites that were supposed to be for children, but were also frequented by adult sexual abusers.

Alyssa explains that she liked chatting to people via messaging services on child-friendly sites, where people created avatars. She says the contact would begin with ‘normal conversation, like asking where you live, what you like doing and how old you are’.

She was 10 years old and she didn’t lie about her age. Even when she realised that some of the people she was talking to were older, she believed she was safe because her mum had brought her up to trust adults. 

Some of the men Alyssa talked to online would ask her to be their ‘girlfriend’ and start conversations about sex. At this stage, she didn’t know the meaning of some of the words they used. The grooming escalated, with the men asking her to watch pornography that they sent, and describing what they liked to do sexually. Some of them tried to arrange to meet her.

The online abusers talked Alyssa into getting a webcam, and she asked her mum for one, saying she’d use it to see her friends. 

One of the first men Alyssa started to talk to was from the Middle East. Because she was bullied in school and racially abused online, Alyssa felt she had something in common with this man. He asked her to show him parts of her body, and he did the same. Alyssa stopped chatting with him when he asked her to help him get papers to enter the country. 

Another man, Walid, was grooming Alyssa online. He too demanded she showed him parts of her body. She says by now this seemed ‘normal’. One day when Walid was exposing himself, Alyssa shut the laptop as she felt ‘creeped out’ and afraid. When she went back online later Walid began to shout at her and told her she would have to accept his behaviour. 

She says this made her feel guilty and she felt she had to do what he asked. Walid would regularly masturbate and demand that Alyssa touch herself. This online abuse continued for about six months to a year.

It ended after Walid asked Alyssa to meet him in Europe. When she told him she would have to ask her mum, he became angry and stopped speaking to her. He later said he had a ‘new girlfriend’ who was going to meet him. Alyssa didn't hear from him again.

She continued chatting with men, many of them middle-aged. She says by this time she was completely used to the idea of using sexual language and sharing explicit photos with people online. She would hear about bondage and gang-related sexual fantasies. 

She says ‘I didn’t realise what happened to me online was sexual abuse until I was 18 years old’.

Alyssa got a boyfriend when she was 12. He was also young and she says that she introduced him to sexual activities. She continued talking to men online, including one who was an ex-soldier who told her that he wanted someone who wasn't ‘happy at home’. 

This man made it clear that he wasn’t interested in talking to Alyssa if she wasn’t prepared to move in with him. He also told her that he felt suicidal and this made her feel sorry for him. He continued to manipulate her and abuse her online until she blocked him. 

By the time she was 13, Alyssa was very depressed and attempted suicide. She cut herself off from online activity and stopped seeing her boyfriend for a year. 

In time, she got back with her boyfriend, but she says that whenever they had a row, or she felt ‘let down’, she would go online because the men there would praise and flatter her, which made her feel good. She describes one abuser who used to expose himself to her when his young daughter was in the background. 

When Alyssa was 17, she made contact with a man who said he was a teacher. He persuaded her to meet him, drove her to a remote place and raped her. After this he carried on messaging her, making more demands about what he wanted from her, but she cut off contact with him.

Alyssa describes how she was affected by the online sexual abuse. At school, she was isolated and struggled to make friends. She behaved badly, drinking, smoking and talking loudly about sexual activities, but none of the staff asked if she was ok. 

She spoke to different GPs about feeling suicidal, but they prescribed medication and said her behaviour was due to ‘teenage moods and depression’. 

She suffered with low self-esteem, feeling that if she had no men in her life, she had no purpose. 

Alyssa says that the first person who asked about her childhood experiences was a mental health nurse, and says at this point, she talked about what had happened to her online and started to realise it was sexual abuse. 

She says that online platforms that are meant to be for children and young people need to be monitored and safe, and there should be ways to stop abusive adults using them.

She suggests that one way of doing this could be to add buttons on the chatrooms and apps so children can raise an alert if they feel ‘something is not right’. She adds that if children are educated about how to report the abusive behaviour online they can keep themselves safe.

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