Derbyshire’s specialist child exploitation charity, Safe and Sound, is marking a national day next week with a challenge to everyone to re-think how they talk about young victims.
National Child Exploitation Awareness Day falls on Saturday March 18 this year and Safe and Sound has decided to focus on the issue of victim blaming.
Last year, Safe and Sound supported a record 343 children and young people aged eight and above who had been victims of or at risk of child exploitation including online grooming sexual exploitation, County Lines, trafficking, modern slavery and radicalisation. The charity also supported 40 families whose lives had been affected by exploitation nearly 30% of the children and young people supported by the charity have learning disabilities.
Safe and Sound CEO, Tracy Harrison has highlighted the harm caused by blaming victims.
As well as potentially discouraging young people from disclosing what has happened to them and bringing perpetrators to justice; it can cause further long-term damage to young people’s self-confidence and self-esteem.
Mrs Harrison explained that victim blaming was any language or action that implied (whether intentionally or unintentionally) that a person was partially or wholly responsible for abuse that had happened to them.
For example, until recent years, young girls who were groomed, trafficked and raped were sometimes referred to as ‘child prostitutes’ which implies that they were complicit in their own sexual exploitation.
More recently, young boys and girls who are targeted by County Lines gangs to distribute drugs around communities, are commonly treated as drug dealers rather than the victims of criminal exploitation who are in fear for their safety and that of their families if they don’t do as they are told.
And young people who accept a stranger’s friend request online and who are then coerced into sending inappropriate images of themselves are often blamed for their naivety and not recognising the dangers of online grooming.
Mrs Harrison said: “Child Exploitation Awareness day is an important date in the calendar as it opens the conversation about what is happening across the UK – and beyond – including in our local communities in Derbyshire.
“As well as raising awareness of the growing dangers of online and in person child exploitation, we want to expand the conversation to challenge people’s perceptions of young people who are groomed by perpetrators for their own ends.
“Child exploitation perpetrators are highly manipulative, controlling and extremely skilled in getting young people to do what they want.
“Whilst it should be a given that these criminals – whether operating as individuals or in groups – are the guilty parties – all too often, the ‘blame’ for this abuse can be directed at the young victims themselves.
“So, saying something like ‘it was the way she is dressed’; ‘he was just a loner with no friends’; ‘she stayed out until all hours’ or ‘he was a streetwise lad’ is actually far more damaging than a misguided judgement.”
Mrs Harrison continued: “Young people who have been groomed and exploited are often scared that they will not be believed so are reluctant to disclose what they are going through and seek help.
“Victim blaming also normalises and reinforces what these young people have been told by their manipulative perpetrators that they are ‘worthless’ and ‘deserve what happens to them’ – making their recovery from trauma an even more complicated process.
“The Sexual Offences Act (2003) recognised children as victims of – and not participants in -exploitation. However, it takes a lot more than legislation to change culture and perception and we all have a part to play in this.
“Young people need our help but also our understanding.
“A lot of work is underway with professionals working with young people to address victim blaming but I ask everyone to think about what you say when you hear or read about such cases in the media and challenge what someone else says to you about this.”
For more information about this issue, please watch this short video https://vimeo.com/159372082 and for more information about child exploitation and how to support Safe and Sound’s work across Derbyshire, visit www.safeandsoundgroup.org.uk