ARE YOU AT RISK?
Am I at risk?
As you grow up and get older, your world is always changing. You’ll be able to stay up later and your parents might let you stay out. You might get your first smartphone, which opens up a huge world of social media and other apps. You might try your first drink, your first relationship and your first parties or other activities without parents or adults watching. Safe to say you’ve got a lot going on.
Abusers know all this too, and they’re good at what they do. So good, in fact, that many children and young people don’t believe or know that they’re being exploited.
It takes many forms, but it can involve
- Adding you/messaging you, even if they don’t know you. They might say they know your friends, or even add your friends, to convince you that they’re part of your circle. This might even happen while you’re in your local park or out with your friends.
- Once they’ve made the first contact, they might talk to you about the music you like, what your school is like or what you like doing. This is so it seems like they’re interested in you and on your wavelength.
- They might pay you compliments and ask you to send pictures of yourself to them, or want to meet you in person. This might seem like what you’d do in a normal relationship.
- They might give you expensive things – alcohol, clothes, jewellery, a new phone or even drugs – stuff that you couldn’t normally afford, and certainly couldn’t payback. They can then use these items to get you to do things you might have been unsure about… “Come on, I gave you all that nice stuff and now you won’t do something for me?”
- You might be offered a way to make easy money by delivering a package or holding on to packages for them. This is often a trick – they set you up by making sure you lose the package (you might get robbed, or they say you didn’t deliver it) and then force you to pay them back by working for free – this is called ‘debt bondage’. The problem is, you never manage to pay it all back – because they want to keep you bonded to them and working for free. The amount you ‘owe’ and what they ask you to do to repay it usually becomes higher, more dangerous and more serious as time goes on.
- You may get asked to look after something that doesn’t belong to you. This could be something valuable or even illegal such as drugs.
- You may be asked to go somewhere you don’t know or don’t want to go to.
What you can do
Abusers are clever, but you can make it harder for them to target you.
- Make sure your social media privacy settings are up to date and limit who can see your profile, photos, friends list and other information. The less they know about you, the less likely they can trick you into thinking you ought to know them.
- If you get approached by someone you don’t know, it’s safest not to talk to them or add them as a friend
- Limit the personal information you talk about with strangers or people you don’t know well – the less people outside your close friends and family know about you, the less likely they can trick you into thinking they like the same music or know the same people or places as you do
- If you do go to meet someone in person that you’ve only spoken to online, make sure to tell a friend or adult where you’re going and meet them in a public place
- Don’t accept gifts or favours – it’s easy and tempting to accept them, but it’s hard to return the favour.
- If it’s not a message you’d want your friends or family to read, don’t send it. If it’s a message you’ve received, don’t respond to it.
HOW WE CAN HELP
- We support young people under the age of 18 who are being or at risk of being exploited.
- You can talk to us about anything and we don’t judge people.
- We are friendly, supportive and caring and most importantly we work around you.
As a young teenager, Louise was in a downward spiral of self-harm, running away and sharing photographs with strangers online – not realising that they were not boys of her own age but older men who were prolific sexual predators.