Building Stronger Wings
By Tracy Harrison, chief executive of specialist local charity Safe and Sound
Child sexual exploitation (known as CSE) is an issue which has a devastating effect on the lives of the individual young person as well as on their entire families.
Imagine how you would feel if you found out that your son, daughter or grandchild has been groomed, manipulated and then coerced into sexual activity?
Parents and families of the young people that we work with across Derbyshire constantly confide about their deep-seated feelings of guilt and helplessness.
They question why had they not spotted the warning signs and what could they have done to prevent the horrendous crime committed by these evil perpetrators?
Of course, what has happened to their children is not their fault or the fault of the young people.
The blame squarely lies with the perpetrators but the effects of their criminal behaviour deeply affect so many people.
There are however key behaviours that parents and indeed the wider community should be alert to and maybe the warning signs that a young person is being groomed or sexually exploited:
- Frequently going missing from home or school
- Going out late at night and not returning until morning
- Being picked up in cars by unknown adults
- Having a significantly older boyfriend, girlfriend or friend
- Unexplained money, possessions, mobile phone credit or a new mobile phone
- Changes in behaviour, for example becoming secretive or aggressive
- Increased use of mobile phone and/or internet activity
- Involvement in criminal activity
- Regularly going out and drinking alcohol and/or taking drugs
For many years, Safe and Sound has supported young people who are victims of or at risk of CSE but we recognise that more needs to be done to provide specialist help to their families as well.
As well as new programmes to provide even stronger support for children and young people, we need to raise the funds that will enable us to provide the 121 support for the wider family – whether that is for parents, grandparents or siblings.
That is why Safe and Sound has launched the Butterfly Appeal #BuildingStrongerWings which is a year-long programme of activity to raise funds and increase awareness of CSE.
The Butterfly Appeal is inspired by the bravery of the young people that we already work with who have found the strength to come out of a dark place and make changes in their lives that transform their futures.
Our plans range from recycling old mobile phones with profits donated to the appeal to organising special fund raising events from cycling to abseiling challenges.
For more information about Safe and Support can help and how to support the charity’s work in Derbyshire, please visit www.safeandsoundgroup.org and follow on Facebook and Twitter @safeandsoundgroup
The internet has, for too long, proved to be a vehicle for perpetrators of online grooming and child sexual exploitation to operate covertly – often remaining undetected.
We therefore welcome the government’s recent release of an Online Harms White Paper – featuring plans for new regulations which would make online providers more accountable for harmful content online.
The proposals include a new regulatory framework, statutory code of practice and duty of care to make companies take more responsibility for the safety of their users online and to tackle harm caused by content or activity on their services.
The regulations will apply to all internet companies, search engines, social networks, forums, messaging services and any website allowing “users to share or discover user-generated content or interact with each other”.
The White Paper acknowledges that harmful content and activity online can be particularly damaging for children in terms of the impact that can have on mental health and wellbeing.
Safe & Sound works with many young people who have been groomed and sexually exploited online, most often via social media networks or apps.
In many of our online cases, young people have been approached on a social media network by a stranger pretending to be someone they’re not. They are befriended over time and then frequently coerced into sharing inappropriate images of themselves which are often used to blackmail a young person with. The loss of control and the fear about who will see these images has a huge impact on a child or young person – even without or before any physical contact.
We highlight below some of the suggestions made in the paper which we feel are particularly relevant when tackling online grooming, child sexual abuse imagery and child sexual exploitation:
- Companies will need to provide: additional protection for children; clear, accessible and relevant terms and conditions; and ensure users are aware of online risks and where to go for help and support.
- Companies will be required to demonstrate the steps they are taking to actively stop the dissemination of content such as child sexual abuse imagery and other illegal behaviours.
- The regulator will likely be tasked with promoting the skills and awareness needed to help individuals stay safe online.
- The regulator will require transparency reports from companies outlining the prevalence of harmful content on their platforms and what counter measures they are taking to address these. These reports will be published online by the regulator, so that users and parents can make informed decisions about internet use.
- Companies will be expected to have effective and easy-to-access user complaints functions, which will be overseen by the regulator.
- Companies will need to respond to users’ complaints within an appropriate timeframe and to take action consistent with the expectations set out in the regulatory framework.
- Companies who do not comply with regulations will be proportionately fined and could be taken offline and blocked within the UK, with senior executives even facing prosecution.
Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport the Rt Hon Jeremy Wright MP, said: “The regulator will also take account of the need to promote innovation and freedom of speech.
“It will adopt a risk-based approach, prioritising action where there is the greatest evidence of threat or harm to individuals or to wider society.”
The White Paper is a positive step forwards in holding some of the large internet companies to account for illegal and harmful content on their platforms and we feel this is long overdue.
Although there are still concerns by many around censorship and privacy issues, which we also acknowledge, the internet currently poses real risks and dangers for all children and young people using it and very little has been done up until now to address these issues.
Child sexual exploitation is everyone’s business. We advocate that the new regulations should include clear ways that internet companies can work more closely with the police, social services, schools and organisations like ours to share information.
We regard this as being an important step towards bringing perpetrators of online grooming and child sexual exploitation to justice and disrupting the ways and means for perpetrators to seek out, target and groom young people in the first place.
The government is currently inviting the public to take part in an open consultation about the new regulatory framework. You can complete this as an individual or on behalf of your organisation here.
It will be another couple of years before the White Paper is converted into law, so our hope is that the changes suggested now will continued to be looked at in line with the ever-changing nature of the internet to ensure laws and regulations remain relevant.
As part of this funding, I was employed to help raise awareness of child sexual exploitation amongst new migrant families in the area and particularly within Eastern European and Roma communities – Written by our New and Emerging Communities Worker Eugenia
Last year, Safe and Sound received funding from Derby City Council to work with new and emerging communities in the city.
As part of this funding, I was employed to help raise awareness of child sexual exploitation amongst new migrant families in the area and particularly within Eastern European and Roma communities.
What are some of the barriers these communities face?
The majority of families I work with have little understanding about child sexual exploitation and speak limited English. Although I moved to Britain from Slovakia more than 10 years ago and speak fluent Slovak and Czech, talking about child sexual exploitation can be very challenging when it’s not a phrase that is known in these communities.
Words such as grooming cannot be translated directly into these languages which means I regularly use examples to illustrate what I mean in order to raise awareness and understanding about child sexual exploitation.
In addition to language barriers, the families I work with are used to small close-knit communities where people know each other well so even a small city like Derby can seem overwhelming and culturally, very different.
Within Eastern European and Roma families, socialising and hospitality are a way of life. We enjoy meeting new people and making friends so our social circles are large. This is the same for young people in these communities – children are more likely to socialise instead of watching TV or playing computer games. The trust between friends and neighbours is such that people of all ages spend time together and children have a lot of freedom.
This is probably even more acute in these communities when they come to the UK. Many have left friends and family back home and so are likely to try to create connections and a sense of community-belonging when they settle here. However, this trusting nature and desire to meet new people, can potentially make them more vulnerable to grooming by perpetrators.
Our approach to working with Eastern European and Roma families
In Slovakia, and across many countries in Eastern Europe, families only have a support worker like me in serious cases and not when they are identified as being at risk of harm. The media in Eastern Europe has also traditionally given a negative view of support services in the UK – creating fears that children are often taken away from their families. These factors can make families initially suspicious of me as a worker from Safe and Sound.
It has therefore been very important for me to develop trust with the whole family and not just a young person who may be at risk of sexual exploitation. This helps tackle their fears that support services in the UK might try to separate their families.
To tackle these barriers, we work closely with Derby City Council’s New Communities Achievement Team and the New Arrivals Team as well the Multi-Faith Centre in Derby which runs Roma Community Care. Roma Community Care acts as a conduit between local agencies, the voluntary sector, and the Roma community and helps with advocacy and support. I often meet families and young people at the Centre where they are receiving support in other areas of their lives and offer my help to increase their awareness and understanding of child sexual exploitation as well.
I also work closely with local schools where there have been concerns about young people missing school and spending time with older adults. It’s important however, that all those working with children and young people remember that these are general signs of child sexual exploitation and not just specific to these new communities.
The response to working with Roma and Eastern European families
When parents find out I am able to provide advice and guidance about things they weren’t previously aware of such as grooming and online safety, they are very keen to find out more and ensure their children are aware of these dangers. Young people are often more responsive to working with me when they know their parents are on-board.
The initial stage of support with a young person can take longer than with young people whose first language isn’t English because of the need to explain things rather than provide a literal translation. Explaining the grooming process where someone may at first appear friendly and generous but may be doing this in order to do harm later can sometimes be a challenge when a young person is from a culture where meeting new people is the norm.
This demonstrates the way we work at Safe and Sound. We tailor our support approach to meet the needs of each individual young person rather than a “one size fits all” approach.
12-year-old Alek came to Derbyshire with his family from Eastern Europe and was nervous about starting school here.
He was befriended by a girl who was nearly 16 and whom he initially regarded as a friendly protector in a new and strange environment.
Their friendship soon turned into a relationship – holding hands and spending time out of school in the local park.
Meanwhile, Alek’s mother attended an awareness session, run by Safe and Sound in the local community.
She already had niggling concerns about Alek’s relationship with the girl and, when she found out that he had been lying about who he was with and where he was going, she spoke to the Safe and Sound support worker she had met.
Although nothing untoward had happened so far, there were warning signs that the girl may have been involved with adult perpetrators and that Alek was in danger of sexual exploitation, abuse or carrying drugs.
The Safe and Sound support worker worked with Alek to help him recognise some of the warning signs of sexual exploitation and he soon ended the relationship with the older girl.
Alek is now much more confident to say no to situations he is uncomfortable with and is vocal with other young people in his community to raise awareness of grooming and abuse.
Our New and Emerging Communities project works alongside a wider Safe and Sound project in the city, funded by Children in Need, to provide support for children and young people at risk of child sexual exploitation and raise awareness of the issue amongst local communities.
If you work with young people from Eastern European and Roma communities – as a youth worker or within a school for example – and would like to discuss potential awareness sessions or some support for a young person please call us on 01332 362120 or email us here.
It was National Child Exploitation Awareness Day last week on Monday 18 March and as such, we felt it important to share some of our understanding about victims of this form of abuse.
Child sexual exploitation (commonly referred to as CSE) is a form of abuse where individuals or groups take advantage of young people by manipulating or deceiving them into sexual activity in exchange for something the victim needs or wants. This could range from money and alcohol to less tangible things such as the attention they crave at a vulnerable time in their lives.
The fact that the abuse can take many forms – from rape and sexual assault to encouraging children to share inappropriate images of themselves – can make it a challenging form of abuse to detect.
During the grooming process, children and young people are often targeted by a perpetrator/s for the purpose of sexual abuse and at first are befriended either online or offline. The perpetrator will build an emotional connection and trust so that a child or young person will believe sexual activity is consensual rather than understanding they have been abused.
The term “victim” often conjures up a picture of someone who may appear depressed, withdrawn, upset and showing visible signs of being afraid. However, many young people who are being groomed feel they are in a normal loving relationship with the person who is exploiting them – that is the nature and the power of grooming. So frequently a young person being exploited will not display typical signs of being a victim.
This is often why victims of child sexual exploitation do not come forwards themselves – most do not see themselves as victims.
Victims of grooming and child sexual exploitation may:
• Seem secretive and/or aggressive – at times because they may be protective of the perpetrator;
• Run away from home or go missing from school – to be with a perpetrator or group of perpetrators;
• Seem confident or loud – sometimes because they have been given drugs and/or alcohol by those abusing them or as a coping mechanism for the abuse they now regularly face;
• Appear defensive – they may be being physically threatened, receive threats on their family or be told that they are the ones who would get in trouble with the police if they speak out.
• Appear reluctant to tell anyone about what is happening or has happened to them – some may have had bad experiences with the police or social care or have heard cases where victims were not believed and therefore act with suspicion.
• Feel to blame for their abuse – being told by a perpetrator that it is their fault leads to feelings of guilt or shame which may also lead to their reluctance to talk about the abuse.
Though public perception of victims of child sexual exploitation is beginning to shift thanks to greater understanding, we still have a long way to go. Lack of understanding about how victims respond to child sexual exploitation means behaviours such as skipping school, doing drugs, going missing and ‘taking up police time’ leads them to be dismissed as ‘troublemakers’.
There were examples in high-profile cases in Rochdale and Rotherham for example, of police being alerted to the same drunk young teenage girls, sometimes found in parks or having run away from home or in strange houses with older men. Young people who were being sexually exploited were often from more disadvantaged areas and backgrounds known for higher levels of crime, leading them to be criminalised by police rather than provided with the support they needed – as victims of sexual exploitation.
Our specialist team provides support to children as young as seven across Derbyshire who are victims or are at risk of child sexual exploitation. All young people we work with react in different ways to what they have experienced so we tailor our support approach to meet their needs rather than a “one size fits all” approach.
The 1 to 1 support we provide is not time-limited. As part of the help we provide our support workers help young people to recognise that what they have experienced is not their fault and that they are victims of exploitation. We also arm them with knowledge and confidence to help them move to a place of emotional as well as physical safety.
We would urge everyone to be aware that victims of sexual exploitation will not always act in ways that you might expect and they might not initially want support. If you’re concerned about a young person or would like to discuss organising an awareness session for your school, youth club or community group in Derbyshire, please call us on 01332 362120 or email us here.
There are many assumptions made about perpetrators of child sexual exploitation from things we may see or read online, but in reality, not enough information currently exists to build up a picture of ‘types’ of perpetrators and how or why they commit crimes against children and young people.
The Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse released a paper back in 2017 highlighting knowledge gaps in this area that require further research.
This includes understanding more about the different behaviours of perpetrators and their techniques for targeting and grooming of children and young people. The value of this information is that it may lead to perpetrators being able to be identified and their exploitative behaviours stopped.
Other areas were identified as requiring further research including: men who pay for sex with children, ethnicity and culture factors, different ways abuse is carried out e.g. gangs and groups or online, female perpetrators, harmful sexual behaviours, exploitation through apps, social media and mobile phones and further understanding about how those with disabilities or from vulnerable communities are targeted.
In 2018, research began into many of these areas and interim findings can be found here. The project is due to finish towards the end of this year.
Whatever our knowledge level or the evidence in the future, it is always going to be important that everyone continues to remain vigilant and we do not hold preconceived ideas about perpetrators and how they may look or act.
It’s worth highlighting some of the signs that might indicate that a child is being sexually exploited.
Be aware of:
• Differences in behaviour in your child, they may be drastic but might be subtle;
• Drastic changes in their appearance;
• Staying out later and more regularly;
• Experimenting with drugs and alcohol;
• Being online or on their phone a lot more than usual;
• Their behaviour may become more secretive – you may find they are hiding gifts, money or a new mobile phone, for example, and you don’t know where they have come from.
The tricky aspect of the above list is that some can be seen in many young people as they grow towards being an adult. Taking risks, testing boundaries, seeking independence and being more reliant on peers are seen as part of normal adolescent behaviour. However, parents and carers know their child and may sense or feel something seems unusual, in which case, it’s worth seeking further guidance and support.
At Safe and Sound, we know from experience that there isn’t a ‘typical’ perpetrator of sexual exploitation. They come from all different backgrounds and have different ways of targeting and grooming young people. It’s vital everyone is aware of this. Our pre-conceptions can mean that perpetrators can hide in plain sight and go undetected.
If you have any concerns or just would like to speak to someone for advice, call Safe and Sound on 01332 362120. If you think your child may be at risk of sexual exploitation you can discuss that with a member of our trained support team. Alternatively, you can contact your local safeguarding children board.
If you think you have information about a perpetrator you can call your local police force on 101 and share your information confidentially.
If you ever suspect a child is in immediate danger, you must call 999.
The NSPCC has recently released figures showing that cases of online grooming are increasing. As a charity that supports children and young people at risk of and affected by sexual exploitation – including online grooming – these statistics, unfortunately, were not surprising.
The figures released show almost a 50% increase in offences recorded in the last six months compared to the same period in the previous year. They also show a 200% increase in the recorded instances of the use of Instagram to target and groom children.
Many of the young people we support have witnessed some form of grooming or exploitation online – from being befriended by strange adults posing as young people their age, to having indecent images of themselves shared across social media. We find that Snapchat tends to be the most significant platform for cases of online grooming with the young people we have supported, whilst 23% of cases of online grooming took place on Snapchat in the figures released by the NSPCC.
The figures demonstrate overwhelmingly, that we can’t rely on social networks to protect children and young people from grooming and exploitation online.
Following on from the Internet Safety Strategy Green Paper in 2017, The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Home Office are soon to release an Online Harms White Paper with a response to tackling these issues. The white paper follows consultation with industry, charities and the public.
It is expected that the government response will include a binding code of practice and a statutory duty of care, as well as the requirement for transparent reporting by social media networks which we believe will go some way towards imposing a degree of responsibility for children’s safety on their platforms.
Whilst we understand the challenges such as the need to protect the human right to freedom of expression, we also know that the lack of regulation for social media networks in comparison to the regulations that exists in other areas of society with involvement in public safety is severely lacking and long overdue.
We would advise supporters to sign the NSPCC petition which calls on Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright to introduce:
• an independent regulator who can put in place mandatory child safety rules for social networks
• safe accounts for children
• detailed reporting on how social networks are keeping children safe.
We don’t believe the changes above need to compromise freedom of expression, but they will help to hold social networks accountable for safety measures on their platforms, which may go some way to cracking down on online grooming and sexual exploitation on social media.
Sign the petition