Sammy Woodhouse is introduced to students at a West Walsall Academy as “one of the most inspiring individuals you will ever meet”.
She walks onto the school stage to applause then, once the noise stops, calmly starts to explain how aged 14 she became a victim in the Rotherham sex-grooming scandal.
“I felt it was cool to be hanging about with someone older,” she tells the hall.
“When I got into his car at that moment I didn’t think my life was going to change.”
“He wanted to isolate me from my family and friends… Once I was involved in his world it was very hard to get out of.”
When the grooming began, Sammy was the same age as many of the students she talks to now.
“You can sometimes hear the gasps, they’re really shocked,” she explains once it’s over.
“I have to be age appropriate, I can’t share my full story with them because it’ll just scare them and it’s important that children learn through education and not fear. I think some of them just feel nervous, they kind of do that nervous laugh.”
It was her evidence to police in 2013 which triggered an investigation that would ultimately expose the sexual exploitation of impressionable teenagers dating as far back as 1997, including the collective failure of the police and social services in preventing abuse, beatings, rape and abductions.
Twenty men were jailed for almost 300 years for the abuse, and 1,400 child victims were identified.
Since the convictions Sammy, now 32, has worked to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation. She’s helped influence changes to policies and procedures and now, as part of a West Midlands Police and community project, she’s giving a series of talks to schoolchildren.
“If [they] can learn one thing from me then I’ve done my job and I’ve done what I came here to do.”
She certainly makes a powerful connection with the academy’s students.
“I feel sorry about what she said, it’s upsetting for her,” student Bilal Imran says.
His classmate Rhiannon Price says: “It was quite a shock that it was all so close to Walsall.”
The school’s deputy head, Lorna McGregor, believes hearing Sammy’s story provides students with a valuable life lesson.
“We felt that it was important to develop our students in terms of their safety and awareness, not just for their lives inside the academy, but outside in the community. It’s about raising awareness and taking the power away from perpetrators.”
As well as sharing her story, Sammy continues to petition for a change in the law. She believes pardoning child sex abuse victims for crimes they committed while they were groomed could bring about more abuse prosecutions.
“I think the Government is listening and it’s now in their hands. I’m still waiting for that meeting with Amber Rudd but I am meeting with the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office to try and get it passed over to the Law Commission.”
Her final words to students at the school are poignant.
“Even now some people still say I’m a liar, that ‘it was your fault, you shouldn’t have got in the car’… but a victim should never be blamed. The people that should be blamed are the people that commit the crime.”