"I didn't realise I was being sexually exploited"

'Rilinda' tells her story and explains how she ended up living with older people and got drawn into prostitution through exploitation and drugs.

Her experience is typical of many women coming to Azalea, who were victims of child sexual exploitation - where children and teenagers are maniuplated or coerced into exchanging sex for gifts, money or drugs.

What is your background? 

Both my parents were alcoholics and I grew up with a lot of domestic violence. I was sexually abused around the age of 7 or 8. Mum left and I started taking drugs aged 12 and dealing drugs a few years later. Drinking and doing drugs allowed me to be “normal”. Then my dad kicked me out and I was arrested a lot from then on.

I ended up living with a lot of older people. I didn't realise that I was being sexually exploited, but I was giving sex to dealers in return for drugs. I suffered a lot of abuse, gang-rape, that kind of thing. 

How did you end up at Azalea?  

I was sent to Luton for drug rehab, and later had a child. That got me back on track but subsequently I fell back into old habits. When I asked for help, social services put a care order on my child and then I really lost my way. 

How has Azalea helped you? 

Azalea gave me love and made me feel safe. I always feel welcome and listened to, and the Azalea team don't give up on you. They keep in contact. They restored my faith in humanity, that there are good people in the world who don’t want something from you, like most people do. If I was ever in trouble I could come down here and tell the team – Azalea's like my family. You've also restored my faith in God, helping me to see God working through people. 

What about now? 

The support has grown with the Recovery side. Before Azalea was only in the evenings but now there are daytime sessions that help fill up my day. Recovery is teaching me life skills, relaxation techniques. It's such a positive place to come – I always feel better being here.