She’s just 13, your little girl. Surely still too young and innocent to be interested in kissing a boy, let alone having sex.
But do you really know the thoughts that go on inside your daughter’s head?
And when she heads out of the door saying she’s off to see her friends, who is she really hoping to meet?
Good, caring parents who have close relationships with their children will probably be able to answer each question with an emphatic yes. And they will be the majority.
But other parents will be unaware that their daughters as young as 11 are having sex.
The boyfriend is seen as the ultimate status symbol in a teenage girl’s eyes. And a number of young girls believe that in order to keep him, they must have sex whenever it is demanded.
Two city youth workers shocked at the number of under-age girls in sexual relationships are striving to raise teenage girls’ self-esteem and encourage them to see that they are worth far more.
“The shocking reality is that in Sheffield and many other UK cities, under-age girls are being groomed for sex with older boys and men,” says Mandy Toombs, who set up the Golddigger Trust in Sheffield six years ago.
The charity supports teenage girls who are struggling with issues of self-harm, eating disorders and primarily, sexual exploitation.
Its name comes from its founders’ belief that “there is value in everyone which needs to be dug out sometimes.”
Mandy, a 32-year-old mother of two, says: “Often it’s the young girl who can’t see her own value and potential. We try to help her recognise them.”
While the public perception of young, sexually active girls is of cocky, self-assured Lolitas, the reality is very different.
Usually they suffer from low self-esteem and desperately want to fit in. That’s what a predatory male sees and works on, says Beth Taylor, co-director of the trust.
“Older boys who want no-strings sex are very clever about it; they pose as potential boyfriends and they go for the least confident girls.”
The boys have cottoned on to the fact that, in a girl’s world, having a boyfriend is important to her social status. It makes her seem cool and wordly-wise to her friends, something an under-confident girl is desperate for. And some boys use that to their own ends.
“We’ve heard this story time and again from the girls we work with in schools, youth groups and church clubs,” says Beth.
“At first, they say they want to have sex; then slowly they admit that they do it out of fear of losing the boy if they say no.
“Before I got involved with working with girls who are being, or are at risk of being sexually exploited, I had an image in my head of how it must happen.
“I imagined a man pulling up in a big black car next to a young girl on a street and convincing her that prostitution is a good lifestyle choice.
“Or that it must be like the recent story line in Eastenders featuring the character Whitney, whose boyfriend turned into her pimp.
“I also thought that as horrific as it was, it was rare, and that those involved where always rescued.”
But since starting work with the Trust, Beth’s eyes have been opened. “I’ve seen that the sexual exploitation of young girls is happening all around us, yet so subtly that we fail to recognise it.”
At best, this grooming of young girls is carried out by worldly-wise boys who might be only a few years older. At worst it could be an organised campaign orchestrated by men into their 20s.
“We think that in every UK city there are gangs and individuals who prey on vulnerable girls as young as 11, particularly those who lack stable relationships at home. And we believe Sheffield is no different.”
£18,000 required to keep service for next year
The Golddigger Trust operates solely on grants and with money raised from events and personal donations. It needs to raise £18,000 to keep running for the next 12 months. For advice from the Golddigger Trust, or to offer fundraising support on 0114 2750335 or atgolddiggertrust.tumblr.com