Nearly 2,000 of the UK’s most vulnerable children and teenagers have been helped by an NSPCC service set up to cope with the hidden problem of child sexual exploitation in the UK, highlighted this week by a hard-hitting BBC drama.
The charity’s Prestatyn centre is at the forefront of guarding those children at risk of grooming gangs and sexual exploitation.
Since 2011 the charity’s Protect and Respect service has helped young people who are being groomed and guard those at risk of being targeted, with the typical victim being a 15-year-old girl.
The Protect and Respect Service, which is run at the Prestatyn, Cardiff and Swansea service centres, has directly helped 1,866 children and young people, with 1,493 aged between 10- and 15-years-old, across the UK.
The charity is raising awareness about its service in light of this week’s BBC drama “Three Girls”, which tells the true story of a gang of Asian men who repeatedly groomed, raped and trafficked young girls in Rochdale between 2008 and 2012.
Chronic underreporting of issue means that numbers may be a tiny fraction of true scale
The NSPCC is warning that many young people do not understand that they are being groomed and exploited because of the tactics offenders use, and the real scale of the problem remains chronically under reported.
It is trying to help children spot whether they are at risk and how they can escape their situation.
Des Mannion, head of NSPCC Wales, said:
Young people will not always recognise that they are being exploited and treated as property. As “Three Girls” highlights, groomers can trick a child into believing that they have chosen to be in this situation and will use them however they like.
We want every child to be able to spot exploitation for what it is and, if they find themselves in danger, know that it is categorically not their fault.
Our Protect and Respect service is showing them how to spot potential abusers, find their way out of an exploitative cycle, and help them on the road to recovery.
We are imploring any adult who suspects a child is being exploited to pick up the phone and call the NSPCC Helpline. This abuse is sadly still woefully underreported and, for us to help these children, we need people to speak up.
Any young person can contact Childline on 0800 1111 or childline.org.uk. Any adult can contact the NSPCC Helpline 0808 500 8000 or nspcc.org.uk. Both are free, confidential, and open 24/7.
Protect and Respect
Protecting young people from sexual exploitation
Protect and Respect concentrates on three key areas:
- Protection: educating young people about keeping safe;
- Risk reduction – when a young person is at high risk or is currently being exploited;
- Recovery – for young people who have been hurt but are now in a safe place and need help rebuilding their lives and overcoming the abuse.
It is open to 10- to 19-year-olds and works with external agencies, such as the police and social services, to identify and help young people at risk of, or who have been, sexually exploited.
The service has evolved from the charity’s previous programme, Street Matters, which was set up in London’s Tower Hamlets to cope with the demand of young girls who were being sexually exploited.
As awareness and reporting grew, Protect and Respect was rolled out across the country to help support any young victim of child sexual exploitation.
Grooming behaviour: Groomers typically identify vulnerabilities in a young person – such as low self-esteem or a chaotic home life – then target, befriend, and convince the child that they are both in a loving, consensual relationship.
They then usually demand their victim pay them back with sexual activity.
This can involve violent and degrading sexual assaults, including oral and anal rape.
In some cases, young people are coerced into exchanging sexual activity for money, drugs, gifts, affection or status.
Child sexual exploitation can also happen online where a child is persuaded into sexual activity and blackmailed into following the groomer’s subsequent orders.
If a victim doesn’t submit to the demands the offender will threaten to take the stability and love away, or trick the child into believing they have chosen to be exploited and no one will believe them, or they will be in trouble, if they report it.