Sex abuse victim pledges 'I won't let them destroy me'

From the age of 13, Sophie Smith experienced the unimaginable.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 9:56 am
Updated Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 10:05 am
Looking forward, Sophie Smith. Picture: Sarah Standing (020321-1900)

She was raped, sexually assaulted and groomed by several men and women but only three were sent to prison.

Speaking to The News under a pseudonym, the 26-year-old has rebuilt her life. She now works within the Portsmouth community to help deprived families while raising her children. Sophie has decided to speak out about her experience to raise awareness and prove that it’s possible to survive the insufferable.

‘I grew up with my nan in Birmingham and was in her care since I was 14 months old,’ explains Sophie. ‘I was walking home from school one day when a man told me that my nan was seriously ill and offered to take me home. I got in his car and he spent the whole day beating and raping me.

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‘When he was done, he dropped me outside Birmingham City Hospital and told me to admit myself because he had caused me so much injury.

‘At the time, I was seeing a psychiatrist at the hospital who then contacted the police for me. From there, they did some investigation but I told them I didn’t know who he was. I did give them false details because I was so scared. He knew me. He knew I lived with my nan and what school I went to.

‘The police found out that I lied after a bit more investigating and that he was a registered 62-year-old sex offender. They couldn’t proceed because I had already lied so they couldn't trust me.

‘I felt so stupid for giving them false details.’

A week later, Sophie wrote a post on social media detailing how ‘stupid’ she felt after what had happened.

‘A man messaged me and told me he was a counsellor. He said he wanted to help me.

‘We met at a hotel a couple of times to talk and on the third time he raped me. He told me he knew about the man who raped me the first time so knew what happened.

‘After what had happened with the police, I opened up to him.

‘Then he started saying that “you need to go and see this person and that person to make me happy”. There were 130 men and women, some were 60-70 years old. I saw 15-20 of them once or twice a week.’

At 16, Sophie was spending every weekend witha 44-year-old man. Sophie says: ‘But I felt safe with him. It felt like a normal relationship.

‘One weekend I was at his and my phone kept on ringing. He wouldn’t let me look at it. It was my family telling me that one of my friends had gone missing and I knew that she was involved with some of the guys I had been seeing.

‘My family asked if I knew but I was covering my own tracks.

‘My nan wouldn’t let me see that man. I kept on saying nothing was wrong but then the police turned up at the house and I just broke down.

‘It all came out in the police interview about the hundreds of people who had abused me. I knew their names, date of births, some number plates and addresses.

‘But out of the details I gave, only 10 were arrested and three eventually convicted despite so much physical evidence too.’

The sentencing in 2013 saw two men, aged 47 and 63, and a 58-year-old woman jailed for a total of 19 years.

All three were found guilty of sexual activity with a child. One of the men admitted meeting a child following sexual grooming.

The convicted were given sexual offences prevention orders and signed the sex offenders’ register for life.

However, in 2016 the woman was released early from her six-year sentence on appeal.

‘By the time it went to court, I was 18. I slowly went off the rails for about two years,’ admits Sophie.

‘However just before the appeal, I found out I was pregnant and everything changed. I immediately stopped taking drugs and stopped drinking and stopped being so reckless. I was not going to let this little life be ruined because of what’s happened to me.

‘I refused to have an escort to court and I didn’t use a screen when giving evidence. I did it all myself. I wanted to face them and show them they had not destroyed me.

‘It inspired me to do more. I started to do public speaking and thought if the police wouldn’t talk about what happened, I will.

Since 2015, Sophie has taken part in several campaigns and public speaking events to raise awareness for victims of rape and sexual assault.

She explains: ‘My first public speaking event was in May 2015 at the Children Have Rights In Society (CHRIS) rally in London.

‘I have also spoken at three events at Guildhall Square and we were planning on doing them on the 10th of every month.

‘We shared our own stories and offered a non-judgmental space for people to talk.’

Sophie has found that getting her thoughts and feelings down on paper has been very ‘therapeutic’ and she is hoping to publish a book in the future.

‘While no proper therapeutic interventions ever helped me, I use helping others and sharing my story as my therapy.’

Since moving to Portsmouth in the summer of 2019, Sophie has dedicated a lot of her time to the community. ‘My friend and I have been doing voluntary work throughout the pandemic,’ explains Sophie.

‘We ran an appeal for those in need and managed to get donations for everything from wrapping paper to presents.

‘At Christmas we managed to help 82 children from 52 families. ‘

She adds that during lockdown they ran a home-school appeal where people donated textbooks.

‘My friend and I collect all the donations and then distribute them to the community. We have also had donations from Asda and Morrisons.’

Looking to the future, Sophie hopes to make a difference to families in the city, while continuing to raise awareness for victims. She says: ‘I talk about my story because I want to show people how you can get through it.

‘I couldn’t imagine being without my children and as a mother, I couldn’t think of anything worse than them having to go through what happened to me.

‘Growing up with my nan who wasn’t very well, I didn’t have a lot. But for my children, I give them all the love and protection I can.

‘I will never hide what’s happened to me from them.

‘None of my recovery process and work I do now would have even been possible without the love and support from my partner and my children, and the overwhelming support and encouragement from my partner and friends.’