Parents across Northern Ireland are being urged to be aware of the risk of child sexual exploitation.
The call comes from the Northern Health and Social Care Trust as part of the Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Awareness Week organised by the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland.
Child sexual exploitation is a form of sexual abuse when a person exploits or manipulates a child or young person into engaging in some form of sexual activity in return for something tangible (e.g a gifts or money) or intangible, such as perceived affection.
Children are most vulnerable to sexual exploitation between the ages of 13 and 15, but younger victims are being targeted all the time.
Startling statistics have revealed that in one month alone, Barnardo’s services across the UK worked with 126 children aged 10–13 who had been affected.
The figures were revealed as the charity warned that child exploitation can happen to any child from any family background and anywhere – inside or outside the home.
Marie Roulston, Executive Director of Social Work in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust explained: “Child sexual exploitation can have a major impact on young people, making them feel trapped and manipulated, leading to anxiety, depression, drug or alcohol abuse or self-harm and can have long term consequences on school work and family life, so it is really vital that parents are aware of the risks and how they can protect their child.
“With advancing technology and increasing accessibility to mobile devices, parents now need to be wary of the risks to their child both inside and outside the home.
“We advise parents to keep up to date with modern technology and be vigilant of their child’s behaviour for example, do they have unexplained gifts or money or are they very protective of their phone? But most importantly try to maintain open and honest communication with your child.”
Marie Roulston added: “If you do think your child is a victim of Child Sexual Exploitation it is important to reassure them that you will help them, don’t blame yourself or think you are a bad parent and seek professional help through school, social services or your GP.”
For more information on Child Sexual Exploitation and local support please contact The Northern Trust Gateway Team 9am – 5pm, Mon – Fri on 0300 1234 333 or the Regional Emergency Social Work Service outside of these hours on 028 9504 9999 to discuss your concerns and to seek advice and support.