Organisations and individuals across the country are being called upon to unite against child sexual exploitation (CSE) for a national awareness campaign.
Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day will be marked on Friday 18 March with supporters sharing their #HelpingHands on social media and pledging to speak out against this form of abuse.
CSE is where children are manipulated or coerced into sexual activity in exchange for money, gifts, accommodation or affection. In some cases, the children or young people involved are tricked into believing they are in a loving, consensual relationship.
“We must not imagine for a moment that these are issues that do not affect us in Norfolk; I am afraid that is not the case”, said Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner Stephen Bett.
“It is incumbent on every one of us to be aware, be alive to the signs and risks, and to report any concerns. Together we can make a difference.”
“It is vital that we not only take action to prevent CSE and reduce the harm experienced by victims, but we must also ensure that support is available for those affected to help them cope and recover from what they’ve been through.”
The PCC has been working with local organisations to commission specialist support services for children and young people at risk of or experiencing CSE.
Among the organisations funded by the PCC is The Magdalene Group which has been awarded a 3-year grant to support the delivery of its ROSE (Reaching Out on Sexual Exploitation) Project.
“One of the many strengths of the ROSE Project is how closely The Magdalene Group’s dedicated and highly skilled team work with Norfolk’s safeguarding agencies.
“Where risk or harm to a young person is identified, the team can take on that referral working on a one-to-one basis with the young person to support them, as well as offering help and support to their family.”
While support for those affected by CSE is vitally important, the ultimate aim is to stop abuse before it happens, and this is another focus of the PCC’s funding of The Magdalene Group.
“As well as running youth group sessions and workshops to raise young people’s awareness of CSE and ensure they are alive to the risks, they are also using the funding I’ve provided to work with some of our most vulnerable young people.”
The threat of CSE is particularly high for children and young people who run away from home, are in care, in foster placement or residential accommodation. In order to reduce the risk of harm to this vulnerable group, the PCC has funded a dedicated role within The Magdalene Group team offering specialist support and protection to young people in care.
“The threat of sexual exploitation is such that, in the interest of protecting vulnerable children and young people, it is essential we better understand the scale of the problem”, he said. “This work will inform a wider understanding of the issues whilst at the same time providing necessary and timely intervention and support.”
The Magdalene Group said: “It is essential that organisations work together to tackle CSE. Not one agency alone can tackle this complex issue. This is why we are delighted to work alongside the OPCC, not only to receive funding to resource this work but also in raising the issues of CSE within Norfolk so together as a county we can prevent and support children and young people around CSE.”
To mark CSE Awareness Day, The Magdalene Group has launched a new booklet for young people, explaining what sexual exploitation is, how to spot the signs, sharing victims’ experiences and giving information on how to get help and support.
To find out more about CSE Awareness Day 2016, visit http://www.stop-cse.org/national-child-exploitation-awareness-day/