‘My sex trafficker held a crossbow to my stomach when I told him I was pregnant’

As the man who’d terrorized her for four years held a crossbow to her stomach, Joanne Phillips crumpled to the ground in terror.

He was furious she was pregnant – fearing he’d no longer be able to force her onto the streets to be abused by anyone who’d pay.

He only spared her when she promised to have an abortion.

Days later, convinced there was no escape from the rape and torture she’d suffered for almost eight years, Joanne tried to take her own life.

Joanne – not her real name – is one of hundreds of girls first targeted by predators in Telford, Shropshire, in an abuse scandal uncovered by the Mirror which spans 40 years.

To the amazement of medics, Joanne, then 19, survived her suicide attempt. This week, she will release her memoir of her, A Girl Worth More.

The Sunday Mirror’s 2018 investigation uncovered years of child sexual exploitation in Telford


Sunday Mirror)

Joanne, now in her forties, said: “What happened to me was revolting, hideous and soul destroying, but people saw me as a prostitute and not a victim.

“For so many years, I tried to put my story behind me. I thought I wouldn’t be believed, and I wanted it all to go away.

“But now, I want to share it to help people spot the signs of grooming, which can often be subtle.

“Failures by the authorities can potentially affect a child’s life, even after they have managed to escape the abuse.”

Joanne’s memoir, A Girl Worth More, is released on February 17

The crossbow incident marked just one horrifying episode in an ordeal which robbed Joanne of her teenage years.

Her nightmare began when she was 12 and raped by a 17-year-old cousin of a schoolfriend.

Soon afterwards, predators began to break into her house to abuse her after school when her mum was at work.

When she asked her doctor for contraception at 14, she asked no questions. Instead, he laid her on a bed in his surgery and assaulted her too.

Lost and traumatized, she stopped going to school.

Barely anyone in authority noticed and, at 16, she fell into the clutches of the man who’d eventually threaten her with the crossbow – known in the book as Gerald.

Joanne is one of hundreds of girls who was targeted by predators in the Shropshire town



Over the next four years, she was raped by hundreds of men, trafficked across the country and held at gunpoint as he forced her onto the streets.

One of the men who paid to abuse her was her junior school headmaster.

Astonishingly, Gerald claimed to be a devoted Christian.

Joanne said: “Gerald often quoted passages from The Bible to justify his actions.

“Mary Magdalene had worked as a prostitute, he said, and this was why God didn’t condemn this work.

“I couldn’t believe a real God would want a life like mine for anyone.”

Joanne was repeatedly arrested but her abusers walked free


Sunday Mirror)

Not a single person has been brought to justice for Joanne’s abuse despite the fact she begged for help from the police.

Instead, she was repeatedly prosecuted for prostitution offences, leaving a criminal record which has blighted her life.

Terrified of prison, she starved so she could afford court ends, saying: “I was basically paying to be raped.”

She says her mum claimed the family could be prosecuted for living off immoral earnings if she remained in the family home – and told her to move out.

Joanne’s ordeal haunted her for years



When Joanne was 20, she finally escaped by fleeing to Northern Ireland.

She said: “I still had disturbed sleep and found myself jumping at every knock on the door. I struggled to relate to carefree young people my age.

“I didn’t know how to pay bills or cook, Gerald had had control over everything. I’d become institutionalized.

“Used to be on the streets and being controlled. I also felt burdened with a deep sense of shame about what I’d done.

“In the eyes of the law I was a common prostitute with convictions to my name and unpaid fines hanging over my head.

“I worried about any potential employer finding out and it wasn’t easy finding regular casual work where I lived.”

Joanne eventually had a family and graduated from university, but struggled to come to terms with what she’d been through.

She only realized the extent of her suffering when she read about other Telford girls who’d had similar orders in the Mirror.

Our 2018 expose told how authorities failed hundreds of girls who were raped, beaten, drugged and sold for sex. Some, like Joanne, were branded prostitutes instead of victims.

The piece prompted Joanne to get in touch with another survivor, Holly Archer, who’d started a campaign for an independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Telford.

Holly invited Joanne to join a silent protest at a council meeting a month later, where councilors finally agreed to a probe after years of refusing to hold one.

Led by former judge Tom Crowther, it’s expected to report its findings later this year.

Telford councilors finally voted for an inquiry after years of campaigning by another abuse survivor, Holly Archer


Sunday Mirror)

Joanne said: “What Holly had achieved was incredible. Although we hadn’t known each other for long, I felt like her biggest fan of hers.

“She was standing up for justice and speaking the truth when all of us, for so long, had been told we were to blame or made to feel like criminals.

“One councilor who saw me in tears, mouthed: ‘I am so sorry’.”

Joanne has been identified as a victim of modern slavery by a government scheme called the national referral mechanism.

She’s now fighting to plug the gaps in support offered to those who have been trafficked – and pushing to have her criminal record wiped.

She said: “If I have my convictions overturned, I will be able to move on with my life. As it stands, it will always hold me back in my career and how I am viewed by society.”

Tom Crowther QC is leading the independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Telford

A spokeswoman for Telford and Wrekin Council said: “Our hearts go out to all victims and survivors of child sexual exploitation.

“That’s why we have commissioned an independent inquiry in Telford, when the government refused to. We hope it will report very soon.”

Assistant Chief Constable Damian Barratt, of West Mercia Police, said: “An independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Telford has previously been commissioned and will be published soon, and while it would not be appropriate for us to speculate on the findings, I would like to offer my assurances that any allegations of child sexual exploitation will be thoroughly investigated.

“We acknowledge that child sexual exploitation is dealt with differently now than it has been in the past, we continually look to develop and improve our approach to tackling child sexual exploitation and have dedicated child exploitation teams who actively seek to root out perpetrators and prevent further offending.”

Some of Joanne’s abuse was reported to officers from West Midlands Police.

The force said it could not locate details of her complaints but it took all allegations of child sexual exploitation seriously.

  • A Girl Worth More, published by Mirror Books (RRP £7.99), is on sale February 17th. Get 10% off with offer code R10 on mirrorbooks.co.uk

Read More

Read More


Related Posts

George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *