New research shows hundreds of young people are in danger of being sexually exploited

Barnardo’s warns parents to spot the signs that their child is vulnerable to exploitation

As Barnardo’s launches a hard-hitting TV advert highlighting child sexual exploitation, new research reveals hundreds of children are being targeted online through social websites such as Facebook and Snapchat.

The study also shows hundreds of children are unwittingly putting themselves at risk of exploitation by going missing from home or care.

The charity is warning parents to be alive to the tell-tale signs that their children may be vulnerable to abuse. Barnardo’s argues teenagers desire to fit in and belong, combined with a wish to experiment and natural curiosity can make them vulnerable to being exploited.

A snapshot survey of 29 Barnardo’s specialist services has shown that during September last year, technology was used in the exploitation of 370 children while almost 300 (285) were reported missing on more than one occasion. Barnardo’s worked directly with almost 2,000 (1,940) sexually exploited and at risk children in 2012-13.

Young people have told Barnardo’s services that they have been targeted online by perpetrators through a variety of mediums including:

  • social networks like Facebook,
  • instant messaging apps like Blackberry messenger,
  • photo sharing apps such as Snapchat,
  • dating apps, and
  • via online gaming.

These findings serve as a reminder of the importance of parents and guardians being aware of the tell-tale signs of sexual exploitation.

As experts in child sexual exploitation, Barnardo’s has identified the top three signs that parents should watch out for, which are:

  • Staying alert to changes in behaviour including regular episodes of staying out late or not returning home
  • Questioning any unexplained gifts or possessions, such as expensive new smart phones
  • Being aware of the extent of your child’s online life and how they use technology

As well as being aware of the signs it is vital that parents talk regularly with their children and ensure they know how to keep themselves safe.

Barnardo’s has identified three questions that parents should be asking their children:

  • How much do you know about the people you spend time/chat with? Do you feel safe with them?
  • Has one of your friends ever given you a gift or bought something for you and you didn’t know why?
  • Has anyone ever asked you to do something that made you feel uncomfortable? Would you talk to me if someone did?

Barnardo’s director Michelle Lee-Izu said:

“The inherent vulnerabilities and curiosity of teenage children means they can often unwittingly find themselves in situations where they are at risk of being sexually exploited.

“We want all mums and dads to feel comfortable talking to their children about this difficult subject so they can stay safe online and in their daily lives while still having the freedom to explore as they grow up.

“Only by knowing what to look for will we be able to protect children from abuse and help more victims come forward and get the support they need.”

Barnardo’s works to transform the lives of the UK’s most vulnerable children. A key goal is to ensure that whatever their background, more children live free from sexual exploitation.

By helping parents and guardians to talk to their children about how to recognise if they are being targeted, then the hope is that fewer children who might be at risk will end up getting involved.

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