Live now
Start time
Playing for
End time
Listen live
Up next
Listen live on

'I was made for more': Underage prostitute hooked on meth tells story of survival

Emily Moorhouse,
Publish Date
Sat, 6 Jan 2024, 9:20AM
Sarah Campbell was hooked on methamphetamine when she was 15 and involved in sex work to afford the class A drug. Photo / 123RF
Sarah Campbell was hooked on methamphetamine when she was 15 and involved in sex work to afford the class A drug. Photo / 123RF

'I was made for more': Underage prostitute hooked on meth tells story of survival

Emily Moorhouse,
Publish Date
Sat, 6 Jan 2024, 9:20AM

WARNING: This article discusses suicide and sex with a minor and may be distressing.

Sarah Campbell* was 14 when she first tried meth. Within a year her life was spiralling out of control, she had dropped out of school, was addicted to drugs and selling her body to pay for them. Today, she’s clean and has recently forgiven the man who exploited her at a time when she was in such desperate need of guidance. She tells her remarkable story of survival to Open Justice reporter Emily Moorhouse. 

Sixteen-year-old Sarah Campbell had just one thought as she sat in a harshly lit prison cell staring at a white wall covered in graffiti, listening to prisoners around her yelling out gang phrases. 

“These aren’t my people.” 

The sleep-deprived teen, who was coming down from an MDMA bender, had been arrested after a violent confrontation with her father that resulted in her being dragged kicking and screaming from her bedroom by two police officers. 

It was both her lowest point, and the start of a new beginning for the teen who had spent the past two years taking drugs and selling herself in order to pay for them. 

“I’m staring the truth in the face. I don’t want to be here anymore. I don’t want to be that person who is yelling in a cell,” she recalls. 

As Campbell, not her real name, sits in a café sipping on her iced matcha latte, hair pulled into a slick ponytail, dressed in a blazer and dress pants, it’s hard to visualise her as the girl from the cells. 

Her story sounds more like a work of fiction than the life of someone who was raised in a Christian household with loving parents. But the sad, and at times traumatic, details of her early teens are all too real and it has taken incredible strength for Campbell, who is now in her early twenties, to get to this point. 

Campbell describes a happy childhood where her father, who kept her in line, was the “head of the home” in a very tight-knit family. 

It wasn’t until she turned 13 that she began to notice cracks in her parents’ marriage. 

Her father started coming home late from work smelling of alcohol. It wasn’t long before he “walked away from his faith” and started using cannabis, occasionally offering the drug to her. 

Sarah began spending most of her time in her room, struggling to understand the division in her family. Photo / FileSarah began spending most of her time in her room, struggling to understand the division in her family. Photo / File 

Her parents’ marriage breakdown sent Campbell spiralling into a sad and lonely place, and she became suicidal. The “naïve, wrapped up childhood” she had experienced seemed to vanish before her eyes as she realised the world wasn’t as bright as she grew up to believe. 

Campbell’s father moved out of the family home when she was 14. The shock and betrayal she felt soon turned to anger at her parents for keeping her so sheltered from the real world. 

“I’d been on this straight and narrow for all of my life and I’d known what I’d known and all of a sudden I didn’t find truth in that. 

“I was so angry that I lashed out and I thought, ‘well what’s the point anymore’.” 

Campbell stopped attending school and barely left her bedroom. Her mother knew something was wrong but Campbell found it hard to express what she was going through and ignored her mother’s encouragement to go back to school. 

She soon made friends with a boy named Tyler,* who was a year younger than her and had seen her walking around the neighbourhood. 

Campbell began spending time with him, enjoying the distraction from the “pain and emptiness” of sitting in her bedroom alone all day. 

“I was imploding there,” she said. 

“I knew what I was exposing myself to wasn’t good but at least I was feeling something.” 

Tyler’s father was a Satanist and Campbell would often hear him screaming in the house from where the pair hung out in the garage sleepout. Cannabis use was also normal in Tyler’s family and soon enough Campbell began using the drug. 

“I wasn’t considering how detrimental my choices were going to be on my life and if I were to even have that thought it didn’t matter anymore because nothing did.” 

Sarah started using cannabis as she distanced herself from her family and began hanging out with a new group of friends. Photo / FileSarah started using cannabis as she distanced herself from her family and began hanging out with a new group of friends. Photo / File 

Tyler introduced Campbell to his wider friend circle, a tight-knit group who “broke the law” together, and it wasn’t long before she tried harder drugs. 

She was 14 the first time she tried methamphetamine, given to her by her friend’s mother who was a regular user. 

She said her friend’s mother would walk around the house saying, “it’s medicine time!” before handing her children a meth pipe. 

Campbell said part of her knew what she was doing was “stupid and wrong,” and from what she’d heard, meth was “terrible”, but she was desperate to escape the emptiness that was consuming her. 

“I didn’t have a will to live and if this is going to make me feel something when I feel so numb, let it happen. I sort of welcomed it because it was making me feel again.” 

After being so “brain dead” due to her deteriorating mental health, Campbell felt alive again when she tried meth. However, when the high wore off she felt she’d lost more than she had gained from the experience. 

She described watching her friend’s family stuck deep in the cycle of meth use, and soon she was in that pattern herself, a fate she had already accepted. 

“A lot of the decisions I made during that time... I accepted that I deserved that because my family had broken apart, my dad was angry at me, it must be all my fault,” she said. 

Campbell would couch hop at various friends’ houses, making the odd appearance at her mother’s house when she had nowhere else to stay but this would often end in a violent outburst at her mother. 

She knew her mother was praying for her throughout this whole period of her life and would encourage her to go back to church, but she had completely turned away from her faith. 

Bonded through trauma 

It wasn’t long until Campbell met Lauren* who was a year older than her and already involved in sex work. She also regularly used drugs to cope. 

The pair clicked and formed a strong friendship, before moving into Lauren’s uncle’s house together, where he supplied them with drugs such as MDMA, cannabis and DMT. 

Lauren shared Campbell’s struggles with mental health and the girls connected through a sense of betrayal and anger and were soon “bonded” through shared trauma. 

“I had felt so alone and finally there was someone who understood a depth of my pain, so I was able to connect to someone in a way I hadn’t for a while.” 

It was during this time that Campbell started using drugs more intensely and by the age of 15, she was hooked on meth, spending most of her time with Lauren, who became her closest friend. 

“When you take drugs for a long period of time you sort of merge and really connect [with a person]. You sink into a person in a way that you wouldn’t sober,” she said, describing the pair almost becoming the same person. 

Sarah became involved in sex work when she was 15, often high while she was working. Photo / 123rfSarah became involved in sex work when she was 15, often high while she was working. Photo / 123rf 

Lauren began introducing Campbell to older men who were “pimping her out” and giving the girls drugs. 

They encouraged her to become involved in sex work, saying it was an easy way to make money and fund her drug addiction. 

At that point, Campbell felt she was a walking body with “no soul or spirit,” so when presented with the idea of prostitution, it made sense to her to say yes. 

Asked what was going through her head when she agreed, Campbell paused for a long time. 

“I had kind of accepted that I was dying,” she finally said. 

“I thought this is just part of the process of me getting closer and closer to not being here anymore.” 

She and Lauren would spend their days going for walks, making food, smoking weed, watching YouTube and going out for drinks if they had money. 

They would meet clients that Lauren had organised through social media, often when they were high, with one goal in mind: making enough money to afford more drugs. 

The trial 

During that time, Campbell was introduced to a man named Mathew Stephens, who would later appear at the Christchurch District Court on trial for organising prostitution deals for Campbell and taking some of her earnings.  

In June, Stephens was found guilty by a jury of one charge of assisting persons under 18 in providing commercial sexual services and one charge of receiving earnings from commercial sexual services provided by persons under 18.  

In October, Stephens was sentenced to three months of community detention and 100 hours of community work and ordered to make an emotional harm payment. 

Campbell took the stand to give evidence during the trial where she told the court of her relationship with Stephens, who she described as “manipulative and controlling,” saying he “groomed” her. 

At one point between October 2016 and June 2018, Stephens dropped Campbell off at a motel to meet a client before taking $100 of her earnings when the job was done. 

Mathew Stephens during his trial. Photo / George HeardMathew Stephens during his trial. Photo / George Heard 

Campbell said she was told to lie about her age but didn’t think the clients cared that she was 15. Often her clients were older foreign men who spoke little English so there wasn’t much conversing, she said. 

That was Campbell’s life for the next nine months to a year before her relationship with Lauren came to an end. 

Lauren’s uncle had been supporting Campbell, encouraging her to make a better life for herself – something she suspected Lauren, who tended to get jealous, “couldn’t stand”. Lauren pushed Campbell away and she was left wondering where to go next. 

Although this period was often blurred with heavy drug use, Campbell remembers conversations she had with people along the way who reminded her that she was a good person. 

Her cannabis dealer was one: “Don’t ruin your life like I have. Don’t become who I am”. 

She had limited contact with her parents who had instructed the police to bring her home if they saw her wandering around. 

Campbell said she was sort of “on the run” and never crossed paths with the police, often flying under the radar. 

“[My family] talked about disowning me because of how destructive I’d become. They didn’t know what to do. 

“That really hit me and made me think I need to get it together.” 

‘I knew in my heart I was made for more’ 

Campbell began to distance herself from the people involved in sex work and moved into her father’s house but struggled to curb her drug addiction. She continued to spiral and became incredibly self-critical, comparing herself to her peers. 

She remembers thinking they had done so well, doing things like running for head girl and planning their futures, while she had barely left her bedroom, trying to fight her drug addiction. 

“I knew in my heart that I was made for more and I knew that wasn’t me.” 

While Campbell managed to stop using meth, she continued using other drugs and would take large amounts of MDMA and lie in bed reflecting on all the decisions she had made. 

“I was putting myself through that so I could really understand this is the reality of my life, feel it, understand it, see what it’s doing to you, find a way out.” 

Campbell describes having been awake for several days “wrestling with ideas and emotions” when her father came into her bedroom, telling her to turn the music down. 

An argument broke out and Campbell, who was suffering withdrawal symptoms, “lashed out in a very violent way”. 

“I’d never hit my dad like that so that was a massive overstep.” 

Her father tackled her to the ground and called the police, as she was “out of control” and he was concerned not just for her safety, but the safety of those around her. 

Campbell describes two big male police officers dragging her down the stairs and out of her father’s house while she was thrashing around and screaming. 

Eventually, the officers had to tackle her to the ground. 

As Campbell lay there, she felt all the rage and pain that had built up for years and screamed out: “God please save me”. 

“I let it all go. I let my pride go and I just felt peace and calm. I felt like I had finally been heard in a way that I could be at peace with my soul.” 

Campbell sobbed in the back of the police car on the way to the station before she was put in the cells on a Friday afternoon. 

The exhausted 16-year-old slept for most of the first day until she was moved into a new cell, a small room with two windows and harsh lighting reflecting off the white walls. 

She spent most of the day reflecting on everything she had “ruined”. 

She remembers staring blankly at the cell wall covered in graffiti and hearing other prisoners yelling out gang phrases. 

“I had this sense that I needed to go back to my faith and my roots and what I was raised in. I knew that was the only way to heal all the pain I’d gone through.” 

After spending the weekend in the cells, something Campbell is now grateful for, she appeared in court on the Monday morning after speaking with a lawyer who put a plan in place for her rehabilitation. 

She stood in the courtroom and listened to the judge talk about all the choices she had made that landed her in prison. 

“I just looked over at her and I was so afraid and I just broke down in tears. As soon as I started crying [the judge] said, ‘It’s okay, you’re going to be okay’.” 

A new beginning 

Campbell was bailed to her father’s house and worked hard to stick to her conditions but still struggled with cannabis use. 

“Again, I knew I was made for more and I had to keep pushing forward,” she said. 

Within a few months, she had admitted herself to a rehab facility for a three-month stint, determined to get her life back on track. 

She learned how to cope with addiction issues and completed some NCEA credits. She moved back in with her mother, slowly starting to rebuild that relationship, and went back to church. 

“I felt wrapped up, I felt accepted, I felt loved. I felt like I could finally rest and let go of the pain and not have to carry it anymore.” 

Campbell went back to school for her final year at age 17. She excelled. 

“I did better in school in Year 13 than I had done in Year 9. I had a lot of motivation and drive and I wanted to do well. I was always the first to put my hand up.” 

Campbell worked as a caregiver on the weekends and when she finished school, began working full-time in rest-home care, before moving into dementia and mental health care. 

When Stephens’ trial began in June, Campbell took up a retail role with more flexible hours that could accommodate her attending court. 

She describes the trial as a difficult thing to go through but believes it was integral for her healing process and beneficial for both her and Stephens. 

“I’d been able to heal in a way that I could see clearly that I’d been through some stuff, but I didn’t need to carry that shame and guilt and I didn’t need to be afraid of that process.” 

Campbell read her victim impact statement at Stephens’ sentencing. In it she offered him forgiveness, an important part of her faith. 

Campbell said she had been “forgiven so deeply” for the mistakes she’d made, and wanted the same for Stephens. 

“Me offering forgiveness to him was my way of saying, ‘I see you, I see that you’re under pressure and your struggles’. It was hard and I almost didn’t want to say it initially, but I just knew it was the right thing to do.” 

Campbell has plans to go overseas and would like to be able to help in third-world countries. 

She encourages anyone going through what she went through to remember they aren’t alone and are capable of things they can’t even imagine. 

“Trust that you are loved. We are stronger than we think we are.” 

What does she feel when she looks back on little Campbell? 

“I’m quite glad we made it through,” she says with a small smile. 

“There is a sadness for that little girl... but those situations made me who I am and those situations created the heart that I have for the people around me. It did define me but in the best way possible.” 

*Names have been changed in this story to protect the identity of the victim. 


Where to get help:
 Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
 Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
 Youthline: 0800 376 633
 What's Up: 0800 942 8787 (11am to11pm)
 Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Helpline: 1737
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.


Where to get help:
• 0800 METH HELP (0800 6384 4357)
• Alcohol Drug Helpline (Phone 0800 787 797 or text 8681)
• They also have a Māori line on 0800 787 798 and a Pasifika line on 0800 787 799

Emily Moorhouse is a Christchurch-based Open Justice journalist at NZME. She joined NZME in 2022. Before that, she was at the Christchurch Star.

Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you