The National Child Exploitation Awareness Day aims to highlight the issues surrounding Child Exploitation; encouraging everyone to think, spot and speak out against abuse and adopt a zero tolerance to adults developing inappropriate relationships with children or children exploiting and abusing their peers.

Debra Cowey, Service Manager for Changing Lives, supports women who have previous experience of sexual exploitation as children and during adulthood. Here, she shares what she’s learnt over the last 5 years of working to tackle this issue.

Dedicated days such as The National Child Exploitation Awareness Day are hugely important for a number of reasons. Sexual exploitation is happening in every city and in every culture. We must also raise awareness that sexual exploitation has no boundaries, and isn’t confined by age or gender. It can happen within families, by peers, by individuals who we may deem to be our boyfriends, girlfriends, husband and wives, employer’s or colleagues.

We must keep this on all of our agendas and keep raising awareness. We must remember all the brave people who have come forward; by doing so they have the chance to be heard and supported, and for some, to receive justice.

We must also recognise the extreme courage of these individuals which has resulted in many, many perpetrators of this horrendous crime being convicted – the true figure of how many people this has saved is impossible to estimate. Every society and government should honour the bravery and courage of each individual who comes forward.

Recently Changing Lives, alongside 5 other women’s organisations, began a national project focusing on sexual exploitation. All of our partners share the same challenges and frustrations. Our aim is to collectively address concerns and barriers faced by people who have suffered this abuse.

One of the biggest frustrations is that we have seen many serious case reviews of systematic grooming by organised crime gangs. Following each large investigation into sexual exploitation, a serious case review is published with local and national recommendations and guidance. Yet these are not made mandatory, and so we see the same issues again and again.

My message is for people to have confidence that you will be believed and will be supported. Services like those Changing Lives offers mean you can receive this support even if you chose not to report your experiences. Everyone can play a role in the protection of others, if something seems suspicious or concerning then please report it. Remember not to be blinded by age or gender.

If there is anyone who feels this maybe happening to them then they can call the following: police on 101, if you are in immediate danger call 999.

To discuss support options or receive advise on Child Sexual Exploitation speak with highly trained staff on the following;

NSPCC – 0808 800 5000

Childline0800 1111

If you are experiencing exploitation as a young person or adult and would like support, please contact us at Changing Lives: 0191 273 8891 and we will do our best to find you the support you need.

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