"Does how old I look make a difference to how you think about me?
"Do you make assumptions about me because of how I seem?
"We all do I guess, but when these judgments are made in a courtroom they can have really negative consequences.
"My name is Lucy. I'm not real - I can't be. Barnardo's has a responsibility to protect the identity of the children that they've created me to represent. And while I'm not real myself, my story tells of what has really happened to children across England and Wales.
"I'm 13, but I could be any age, perhaps 11, maybe 16.
"I went to court because I had a chance to see the man who sexually exploited me punished for what he'd done.
"But in the courtroom I was made to feel that the abuse I experienced was my fault - even when he had been found guilty!
"They said that because I have large breasts I look mature for my age and men could easily think I was old enough to have sex.
"They also said that I seduced him! They said I agreed to it all.
"But I only had sex with him because he tricked me into it.
"He promised to care for me and I wanted him to because no-one has really cared for me before. I trusted him.
"He's older than me and you're supposed to be able to trust grown-ups, aren't you? But he abused my trust and he really damaged me.
"Why couldn't the people in court have seen me as a child? If they had, they would know that I could never truly agree to being in this position.
"That would be like me agreeing to be abused".
We've a really important chance to improve how sexually exploited children are treated when they go to court.
Legal guidelines currently exist that risk children being treated in the way that Lucy’s story describes even when their abuser is found guilty. But fortunately these are currently being reviewed.
This means we have an opportunity to change them. We want it to make sure that these guidelines recommend that the justice system in child sexual exploitation cases treats the victims as children.
If they do this, they have a means to override any other perceptions they may have about the young person in their courtroom. It means we can better protect this young person from further abuse, giving them to chance to recover and improve their life.
That's why it's vital you sign this petition today.
With thanks from service users at Barnardo's child sexual exploitation services and the Barnardo's Campaigns Team.
For more information about this campaign or the issues raised in it please email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 8550 8822
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