On the 18th March every year, it’s National Child Exploitation Awareness Day (https://stop-cse.org/national-child-exploitation-awareness-day/) – a day highlighting an issue that many children and young people face. It encourages people to start to think, spot and speak out against abuse. To develop zero-tolerance towards children being exploited or exploiting their peers.
The Government released statistics this month (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/modern-slavery-national-referral-mechanism-and-duty-to-notify-statistics-uk-end-of-year-summary-2021/modern-slavery-national-referral-mechanism-and-duty-to-notify-statistics-uk-end-of-year-summary-2021) that show there is a significant rise in the number of children being exploited and entering the National Referral Mechanism system set up to deal with slavery.
More than 5,000 children, the largest group UK nationals, were referred as exploited, and 49 per cent of those were referred for criminal exploitation.
Even during lockdowns, even more young people were being referred as a result of exploitation.
This serious issue affecting local communities needs our attention now more than ever before.
At Transitions UK, we understand this is a huge challenge, especially for the vulnerable young people we are supporting. We’ve often highlighted the huge amount of exploitation that comes from criminal gangs and the violence they use to exert control. Exploiters attach themselves to a young person when they think they can take advantage, misusing their power and influence. This leaves the young person with few options to get out of their harmful environment.
We created our Aspire Project to deal with this situation. Aspire supports those at risk of criminal exploitation from adults and peers around them. We provide them with weekly mentoring and befriending services which help them to reduce their risk of offending, simultaneously creating safer lives and safer communities around them.
We focus on removing negative associations, improving their education and employment opportunities as well as working on their confidence, self-esteem, and social and emotional skills. The goal is to ultimately give them a different set of opportunities that they may not have had before and guide them into a life where they can be independent and make a positive contribution to society.
If you think a young person you know is at risk of being exploited, you can look out for these signs shared by GOV UK (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/criminal-exploitation-of-children-and-vulnerable-adults-county-lines/criminal-exploitation-of-children-and-vulnerable-adults-county-lines):
– Consistently missing school/decline in performance
– Unexplained money, clothes, or phones
– Friendship groups with older/more controlling people
– Unexplained injuries
– Carrying weapons
– Isolation from peers
It’s so important to make our young people aware of the dangers they face through their teenage years into young adulthood. It can be from multiple sources, for example, in person or online. By continuously informing and educating them, through talks at school, their parents, and other influential people in their lives, they will make more positive choices.
It’s not just an issue for when you’re young. Exploitation doesn’t stop at 18. This why our young adults also need to gain the knowledge and understand the risks so they can keep themselves safe and then able to educate others.
You can find out more about our Aspire Project here: www.transitionsuk.org/aspire
Find out how you can show your support on this important day: www.stop-cse.org